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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

How a small tax rise exposed the SNP's anti-austerity talk for just that

The SNP refuse to use their extra powers to lessen austerity, says Kezia Dugdale.

"We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity."

With those few words, Nicola Sturgeon sought to reassure the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland last year that the SNP were a party opposed to public spending cuts. We all remember the general election TV debates, where the First Minister built her celebrity as the leader of the anti-austerity cause.

Last week, though, she was found out. When faced with the choice between using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future or imposing cuts to our schools, Nicola Sturgeon chose cuts. Incredible as it sounds the SNP stood shoulder to shoulder with the Tories to vote for hundreds of millions of pounds worth of cuts to schools and other vital public services, rather than asking people to pay a little bit more to invest. That's not the choice of an anti-austerity pin-up. It's a sell-out.

People living outside of Scotland may not be fully aware of the significant shift that has taken place in politics north of the border in the last week. The days of grievance and blaming someone else for decisions made in Scotland appear to be coming to an end.

The SNP's budget is currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament. It will impose hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts to local public services - including our schools. We don't know what cuts the SNP are planning for future years because they are only presenting a one year budget to get them through the election, but we know from the experts that the biggest cuts are likely to come in 2017/18 and 2018/19. For unprotected budgets like education that could mean cuts of 16 per cent.

It doesn't have to be this way, though. The Scottish Parliament has the power to stop these cuts, if only we have the political will to act. Last week I did just that.

I set out a plan, using the new powers we have today, to set a Scottish rate of income tax 1p higher than that set by George Osborne. This would raise an extra half a billion pounds, giving us the chance to stop the cuts to education and other services. Labour would protect education funding in real terms over the next five years in Scotland. Faced with the choice of asking people to pay a little bit more to invest or carrying on with the SNP's cuts, the choice was pretty simple for me - I won't support cuts to our nation’s future prosperity.

Being told by commentators across the political spectrum that my plan is bold should normally set alarm bells ringing. Bold is usually code for saying something unpopular. In reality, it's pretty simple - how can I say I am against cuts but refuse to use the powers we have to stop them?

Experts - including Professors David Bell and David Eiser of the University of Stirling; the Resolution Foundation; and IPPR Scotland - have said our plan is fair because the wealthiest few would pay the most. Trade unions have backed our proposal, because they recognise the damage hundreds of millions of pounds of cuts will do to our schools and the jobs it will cost.

Council leaders have said our plan to pay £100 cashback to low income taxpayers - including pensioners - to ensure they benefit from this plan is workable.

The silliest of all the SNP's objections is that they won't back our plan because the poorest shouldn't have to pay the price of Tory austerity. The idea that imposing hundreds of millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools and public services won't make the poorest pay is risible. It's not just the poorest who will lose out from cuts to education. Every single family and business in Scotland would benefit from having a world class education system that gives our young the skills they need to make their way in the world.

The next time we hear Nicola Sturgeon talk up her anti-austerity credentials, people should remember how she did nothing when she had the chance to end austerity. Until now it may have been acceptable to say you are opposed to spending cuts but doing nothing to stop them. Those days are rapidly coming to a close. It makes for the most important, and most interesting, election we’ve had in Scotland.

Kezia Dugdale is leader of Scottish Labour.