Of all Theresa May’s appointments to her cabinet, none should have caused more concern than that of disgraced former Defence Secretary Liam Fox, who was made International Trade minister. But such is the mystique, the idea that he is some kind of Big Political Beast, some figure of substance, a Tory heavyweight, that far too many of the Pundit Establishment, and indeed the press generally, have given him a free pass.
How long before it's Goodnight From Them?
Fox should have been sacked by Young Dave well before the Guardian caught him and forced his resignation, if only because the MoD was becoming seriously leak-prone under his stewardship, with all the leaks ending up at the Telegraph, and all being of benefit to Himself Personally Now. When he went, so did his Atlantic Bridge charity, after it had been the subject of seriously adverse comment from the Charity Commission.
Now, it is all coming around again, as BuzzFeed has revealed. Fox’s charity Give Us Time has the objective is to provide free holiday accommodation for up to a week for the families of troops who have served tours overseas, and who may have been separated for months at a time because of the demands of their postings. That does not seem such a bad idea. But the extent of the assistance provided by the charity appears limited.
As BuzzFeed observed, “Give Us Time has helped fewer than 130 families in total in its first three years - less than half as many week-long trips as Fox said were donated in the charity’s first month alone - giving away less than £110,000 of holiday stays in that time despite being awarded a £500,000 grant from the Treasury”. How did it secure that grant from the Treasury’s “Libor fund”? We don’t get to find that out.
What we do get to find out is that “In February, Give Us Time organised another group trip to Bulgaria for services families, and once again Liam Fox attended for a few days - receiving free accommodation from Balkan Jewel Hotel Resort, the charity’s donor … However, two members of Liam Fox’s staff also came on the trip, parliamentary declarations show, staying for the full week. Like Fox they received free accommodation, but Give Us Time paid for the flights of both flight members - effectively giving both a free holiday”. Was Adam Werritty one of the two mystery beneficiaries?
That much is bad enough, but the worst aspect of this story, as I hinted at, is the shocking lack of press curiosity exhibited throughout. Give Us Time started out by Fox “Unveiling the initiative in The Sun”. Where is the Sun’s investigation? There isn’t one. The charity told that they “enjoyed several prominent press articles in national newspapers including The Evening Standard, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail”. But no questions asked, it seems.
It wasn’t just the Daily Mail: “The Mail on Sunday, ‘You’ magazine devoted several pages to Lady Kitty Spencer and her work with the charity”. No fearless MoS investigation, either. No, what we have here is a total and abject failure by the Old Media establishment to ask the questions that it has been left to BuzzFeed to pursue.
There is nothing mystical about Liam Fox. He’s a politician, just like all the others. So how about the right-leaning press quit eulogising over him, get off their backsides, and ask the questions that their readers have a right to see answered? Something smells distinctly ripe about Give Us Time. So that free and fearless press should be on to it. End of story.