by Kevin Meagher
The blood lust of our “feral” media, combined with the unmistakeable whiff of a politician in distress, always ends the same way. But despite Liam Fox’s exit this remains quite simply, the luckiest government in living memory.
There have been no shortage of political scandals and pratfalls over the past 17 months that could have seen any number of Dr. Fox’s colleagues beat him to the ignominious honour of being the first cabinet minister kicked to Whitehall’s curb.
But Tory and Lib Dem ministers seem to be blessed with nine lives. Perhaps rabbits’ feet are handed out to ministers with their red boxes?
Take Andrew Lansley. Surely it is only a matter of time before a piano drops on his head? He has made a complete hash of the health bill, finding himself in the curious position of pleasing absolutely no-one with his proposals, yet he remains in situ.
And then there’s Michael Gove. Although he is a true Cameroon, of which great things were not unreasonably expected, his career has never quite been the same since he was pranged early on by Ed Balls, colliding into him over the scrapping of the building schools for the future programme. He wobbled, but has recovered, of sorts, only to now find himself caught up in revelations that he and his advisers operated a secretive email network, by-passing his department’s official channels. If compelled to publish the messages under freedom of information obligations, he may find he has strayed down a Fox-hole in terms of ministerial propriety.
Before Liam Fox, the previous holder of the dubious title “cabinet-minister-most-likely–to-resign” had long been held by energy secretary Chris Huhne. He has spent the past few months on the precipice of a resignation, as the excruciating half-life of his messy divorce sees both him and his ex-wife embroiled in an unseemly “he said, she said” squabble over one or the other’s penalty points for speeding. Although a fairly mediocre crime, in the grand scheme of things, it has acquired epic proportions given the energy secretary’s career is essentially being strafed by friendly fire.
Yet he clings on. Your average rhino resembles an Oil of Olay model in the skin suppleness stakes when measured alongside Huhne. His leader, however, is forced to develop a thick hide on the job. Nick Clegg has spent most of his 17 month tenure as deputy prime minister as a pariah. He is the unhappiest looking bloke in British politics, and with good reason; he is the most hated. He has scuppered the very essence of the Lib Dems’ brand by doing the coalition’s dirty work, and now his own constituency is set to be eviscerated in a pointless parliamentary boundary review he only signed up to in order the secure the doomed referendum on AV; yet he hangs on too.
But these are just the top-drawer near-death experiences of the coalition. There are another set of ministers who have had a close shave through good old-fashioned political bumbling. Take Ken Clarke’s howler of a radio interview about rape sentencing, coming on top of his faltering handling of his brief, which has seen Tory backbenchers turn puce at what they see is the forfeiting of their credibility on law and order due to Clarke’s leniency on sending criminals to jail.
Or Vince Cable’s silly self-aggrandising, bragging that he could bring down the government if he chose to by deploying his “nuclear option” as he sought to impress a couple of fetching young female undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph. Dufferish, old bloke failings, but indicative of senior politicians who have difficulty keeping their political antennae erect.
The last category is the weird and wonderful. Think of William Hague’s hotel arrangements. Or Oliver Letwin’s curious al fresco filing system. Or Caroline Spelman not being able to see the wood for the trees in relation to the flogging-off of national forestry management.
Any one or all of these ministers could have plausibly walked the plank during the course of the last year for either political or personal difficulties. Paradoxically, Liam Fox looked likely to become a cabinet mainstay. Meanwhile, the scalp to end all scalps, remains tantalisingly out of reach. For now.
The jet-black pelt of the chancellor is worth a dozen Fox skins. Osborne’s eventual embrace of a plan B for the economy warrants his resignation. The change of direction that will eventually come – and which Osborne puts off for the narrowest political considerations – should make his position utterly untenable.
Liam Fox will doubtless feel rather lonely as the first occupier of the cabinet’s sin bin. But he should content himself. He won’t be the last.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut.