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In a less shameless world, Liam Fox’s career would have ended in 2011

Or to give him his full title, the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox.

There’s a late, unlamented Twitter account that died a death some time in 2011. @itsJOSSnotJOSH was either a bot or possibly just someone with far too much time on their hands, but either way, it existed entirely to reply to tweets mentioning the TV and film writer “Josh Whedon” to tell them they’d got his name wrong.

Were I remotely capable of coding I think I’d set up a similar bot. I’ve been doing this manually, when I have the time, but automation would make my operation so much more efficient. Here’s what my bot would do. Whenever someone mentioned Liam Fox, it would tweet them with a reminder that he should more properly be referred to by his full title of “the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox”.

That’s because Fox, the MP for North Somerset and baffling darling of the Tory right, was humiliatingly forced to tender his resignation from the Cabinet in 2011. He was forced to resign because he had done a very bad thing. Fox should be considered, on any sensible definition, in disgrace.

But Liam Fox himself would, understandably, like everyone to forget about this. He’s likely to be a big figure in campaign for Brexit. He’s started popping up in polls of Tory members asking who they would back as the next party leader. And, asked this week if he would consider running again for the leadership that he failed to bag in 2005, Fox replied, without undue modesty, “Never say never”.

Well. Sometimes, actually, one should say never. This is an excellent case in point. Dr Liam Fox, the disgraced former defence secretary, should never be leader of the Conservative party. In a better world, in fact, he would never be allowed to hold another government job. Why? Because he was forced to resign from the Cabinet in disgrace.

Let’s remind ourselves what Fox did. He allowed his close friend and best man, Adam Werrity, to take up an unofficial and undeclared role in which he attended meetings at the Ministry of Defence without first obtaining security clearance. Werrity had access to Fox’s diary, printed business cards announcing himself as his advisor, and even joined him at meetings with foreign dignitaries.

An investigation by then cabinet secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell found that Fox had shown a lack of judgement by blurring the lines between his official role and his personal friendships. His report concluded: “The disclosure outside the MoD of details about future visits overseas posed a degree of security risk not only to Dr Fox, but also to the accompanying official party.”

Once upon a time a porous boundary between the personal and the professional, especially when it touched on matters of national security, was a breach big enough to end a career. John Profumo left politics altogether and spent 30 years cleaning toilets to atone for his mistakes. Fox, though, has hung around the back benches feeling hard done by and waiting for the moment to return to his rightful place. He is, in the most literal sense, shameless.

The media must take its share of the blame for this. Fox’s slow motion rehabilitation has been enabled largely by the fact that time-pressed reporters and producers have often turned to him when they need a good quote attacking the government from the right. Under the circumstances, it probably felt a bit off to make too much of his ignominious departure from office.

Tony Blair should probably share the blame, too. Under his government, being forced to resign from office stopped being something that could terminate a career and became a sort of political sin bin. Ministers who mucked things up were forced out of their posts in double quick time to prevent that day’s scandal from dominating the news cycle, but then, once a suitable period had elapsed, were allowed to come crawling back. The repeated resurrection of Peter Mandelson set a nasty precedent that would later pave the way for David Laws to return to office, too.

All this strikes me as a bad thing. For while the sin bin approach is perhaps reasonable in some cases, it lets other miscreants off the hook far too easily. There are some mistakes a politician can make for which banishment from public life is an entirely proportionate punishment. There are some errors which should disqualify one from ever holding high office again.

Fox’s, I feel, are of this latter sort. He showed a worrying lack of judgement, and an even more concerning lack of remorse. He was right to resign his office; he is wrong to think he is owed a path back.

I doubt I’ll ever make my Twitter bot: it sounds far too much like hard work to me. But I will, whenever the mood strikes, keep reminding people that Dr Liam Fox, the former defence secretary and MP for North Somerset, was forced to resign from the Cabinet because of his own errors of judgement. Liam Fox should more properly known as “the disgraced former defence secretary, Dr Liam Fox”.

Because he is, isn’t he? He’s disgraced. Dr Liam Fox is in disgrace. And in a less shameless world, he’d never have a hope of returning to high office ever again.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.