Fox hits out at "personal vindictiveness" of media

Former Defence Secretary attacks "unacceptable" way that the media pursued his friends and family.

Liam Fox has given a statement to MPs in the aftermath of an official report which found he was guilty of breaching the ministerial code.

He stressed that Sir Gus O'Donnell's report had cleared him of the most serious charges, finding that he did not have any financial interest in his professional relationship with Adam Werritty, and that national security was not breached.

While Fox said he accepted responsibility for breaching the code, he hit out at the media. He said it was "unacceptable" that his relatives and friends were harassed, and complained that comments by Harvey Boulton, a venture capitalist Fox met in Dubai, were treated so uncritically. He also said that elements of the press had acted with "personal vindictiveness - even hatred".

Fox may have had a point when he said of his relatives that "we chose this life, they did not". But his rant risked sounding like he was blaming the media for his trials, rather than his own misdeeds. Were it not for the media, these actions would not have been discovered.

The speech seemed to designed suggest that Fox did a noble thing in standing down: "I accept that it is not only the substance but perception that matters and that is why I chose to resign". Regardless of whether national security was breached or not, the point is that Fox violated the rules, which are there for a reason. He -- and others -- must not lose sight of this.

Here's the statement in full:

Two weeks ago I visited Misrata in Libya and I met a man who showed my photographs of his dead children. A few days later I resigned from the cabinet. One was an unbearable tragedy. The other was a deep personal disappointment. I begin with that necessary sense of proportion.

As I said in the House last week, I accept that it was a mistake to allow distinctions to be blurred between my professional responsibilities and my personal loyalty to a friend. I accepted then it was a mistake to attend a meeting with a potential supplier without an official present, and with hindsight I should have been more willing to listen to the concerns of those around me.

I have attempted to be clear and transparent on all the issues raised. I would like to say again that I am very sorry to all my colleagues here in the House and to all those who feel let down by the decisions that I have made.

I have always believed in personal responsibility and I accept the cabinet secretary's conclusions. I am pleased at the explicit acknowledgement that I neither sought, expected, nor received any financial gain that was being widely and wrongly implied.

I also welcome the clarification of the fact that no national security issues were breached, no classified documents made available, and no classified matters briefed. These accusations were also widely made and deeply hurtful.

The ministerial code had been found to be breached and for this I am sorry. I accept that it is not only the substance but perception that matters and that is why I chose to resign. I accept the consequences for me without bitterness or rancour.

I do not blame anyone else and I believe you do not turn your back on your friends or family in times of trouble.

It is, however, unacceptable, that family and friends who have nothing to do with the central issues should be hounded and intimidated by elements of the media, including in this case elderly relatives and children.

It is difficult to operate in the modern environment, as we know, where every bit of information, however irrelevant or immaterial, is sensationalised and where opinions, or even accusations, are treated as fact. It was particularly concerning that Harvey Boulton, present at the Dubai meeting and subsequently the defendant in a blackmail case, was treated so unquestionably.

Last week's media frenzy was not unprecedented, and it happens where a necessary free press and politics collide. But I believe there was, from some quarters, a personal vindictiveness - even hatred - that should worry all of us.

But just as these events can bring out the worst in human nature, they also bring out the best. I have been touched and frankly overwhelmed by huge numbers of letters, emails and calls from friends and stranger alike, in particular from my constituents in North Somerset. It has meant more to me than anyone can know.

I would I would also like to thank my parliamentary colleagues, including those in the cabinet for their strong and generous support. It shows politicians at their best, and I apologise that it may take some time to get round to thanking all of you in person. I am also indebted to my loyal staff for their support, in particular my special advisers who find themselves out of work as a result of my decision.

I will miss the Ministry of Defence and the fantastic people who work there, military and civilian. It has been a life-changing experience and a great honour to work with some of the bravest and best people in our country. I am proud of what we have achieved there in 17 months, and I will help in any way my successor, who I know will do an absolutely excellent job.

I would like to thank my family and friends for their love and support. It is not easy to watch someone you care about being attacked in a very aggressive and prolonged way. We choose this life, they do not.

Of course, I would like above all to thank my wife Jesme, who has dealt with this whole business with her usual grace, dignity and unstinting support.

Finally, it is not always easy to be in public life, but it is an honour. I would like to thank all the party leaders, including the prime minister, who have enabled me to serve on the front bench for 17 consecutive years.

I will give this government my full support as they rescue our economy from the mess we inherited. Most of all, I would like to thank my constituents in North Somerset for giving me the honour to represent them in the House of Commons, and the opportunity to serve.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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There are sinister goings-on in the race to become the UN's next Secretary-General

The United Nations can and must do better than this, says David Clark. 

2016 was meant to be a year of firsts for the United Nations as it prepares to choose a new Secretary-General. Optimism was growing that the top job would go to a woman for the first time in the world body’s seventy-year history. There was an emerging consensus that it should be someone from Eastern Europe, the only region never to have held the post, provided a candidate of the right calibre was put forward. Above all, the selection was supposed to break new ground in openness and transparency after decades in which decisions were stitched up in private by a handful of the most powerful countries. Innovations like open nominations, public campaigning and candidates hustings were introduced in a bid to improve public scrutiny.
 
All of that now threatens to be turned on its head as the battle to succeed Ban Ki-moon becomes embroiled in intrigues and plots, according to stories that have surfaced in the Belgian and Portuguese media in the last week. Allegations centre on the activities of former European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, and ex-Portuguese MEP turned lobbyist, Mario David. Both are said to be promoting the undeclared candidacy of Kristalina Georgieva, the serving European Commission Vice-President from Bulgaria. Barroso reportedly arranged for Georgieva to participate in a recent meeting of the Bilderberg group in order to boost her profile with world leaders. David is said to be touring the capitals of Eastern Europe to canvas support.
 
While there is nothing necessarily unusual about senior European politicians supporting a colleague in her bid for a major international job, there are two things that make this case very different. The first is that Bulgaria already has an official candidate in the person of Irina Bokova, a career diplomat currently serving her second elected term as Director-General of UNESCO. Reports suggest that Barroso is among those pressing the Bulgarian government to switch its nomination to Georgieva, while David’s role has been to find another country in the region willing to nominate her in the event that Bulgaria refuses to budge. The second piece of the puzzle is that Portugal also has an official candidate – its former Prime Minister, Antonio Guterres – who Barroso still publicly insists he is supporting.
 
It is in the nature of the way these matters are often decided that there is no necessary contradiction between these facts. Georgieva’s candidacy would appear to stand no real chance of success. She lacks diplomatic experience and news reports suggest that the Bulgarian Prime Minister’s decision not to support her was based on information linking her to the communist-era intelligence services. And while there is nothing to stop another country nominating her, precedent suggests that a lack of domestic support will be fatal to her chances. Georgieva is highly unlikely to end up as UN Secretary-General, yet she could still have a significant role to play as a spoiler. Bulgaria’s official candidate, Irina Bokova, is frequently described as the frontrunner. As a woman from Eastern Europe with heavyweight UN experience, she certainly has an edge. A rival Bulgarian woman candidate would create doubt about the strength of her support and potentially open the way for other candidates. The aspirants who stand to benefit most are men from outside Eastern Europe. Step forward Antonio Guterres.
 
Those with the best chance of preventing these manoeuvres from succeeding are the governments of Eastern Europe. Although the principle of rotation does not confer on them the automatic right to have one of their own chosen to run the UN, a degree of unity and professionalism in the way they approach the contest would make their claim much harder to resist. Unfortunately there has so far been little evidence of the kind of collective solidarity and diplomatic co-ordination that helped to deliver the top UN job to Africa and Asia in the past. The strongest advocate for Eastern Europe is currently Russia, although it has stopped short of threatening to use its veto in the way that China was prepared to do for Asia when Ban Ki-moon was appointed in 2006.
 
In addition to casting doubt on Eastern Europe’s chances, the descent into private plotting is an ominous warning to those campaigning for the UN to become more open and representative – the appointment of a new Secretary-General may not prove to be the turning point they had hoped for. What is the point of public hustings for candidates when the real discussions are taking place at a closed meeting of Bilderberg group? Why bother to encourage women candidates to put forward their names when the power brokers of international diplomacy already have their man? Seventy years after it was established, the UN should have found a better way to do this. It still can.

David Clark was Robin Cook’s special adviser at the Foreign Office 1997-2001.