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.