Last Autumn, there were a number of documents leaked from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), all demonstrating the concern of the military, and particularly Defence Secretary Liam Fox, to all and any cuts affecting the armed services. At the time I concluded that this was not a coincidence, that Fox was the most likely culprit, and that Young Dave should therefore sack the SOB.
Six months on, Cameron has still not mastered his basic Machiavelli – do not allow opponents to build a power base – so Fox is still in place. And now there has been yet another leak, this time showing that Fox is challenging Young Dave’s overseas aid commitments. The idea that the UK is giving away too much dosh to those ghastly foreigners is a favourite on the Tory right.
The only difference this time is that the leak has been picked up by the Murdoch Times, rather than the Maily Telegraph, as previously. And when Ben Duckworth opines in Total Politics that this isn’t about the Tory right, he’s well and truly into Gerald Ratner territory. Because that’s exactly what it’s about.
So perhaps Cameron feels he has to put up with the leaks, and keep Fox in one of the “big” offices of state, to keep the Tory right quiet. That Fox may not be a credible leader of that part of the party does not mean that he is therefore more easily sackable: to remove him, and not replace him with another right leaning MP, may set off the mutterings and plotters.
That would indicate weakness on Young Dave’s part, rather than strength. If he’s so secure – and the AV referendum result, plus better than expected numbers from local Government elections, point that way – then there is no reason why he cannot act to remove the culture of leaks at the MoD. Laughing it off every time is not a persuasive strategy: Fox will just keep on doing it.As I said before, Margaret Thatcher would not have hesitated, and neither would Clem Attlee. If Cameron does not sack Fox sooner rather than later, it will just store up trouble. And if events turn against him further down the road, a culture of leaks at the MoD is not a desirable sideshow.