David Maddox: Liam Fox comeback not so unlikely

Former Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox. Picture: TSPL
Former Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox. Picture: TSPL
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A YEAR ago it would have been hard to find anybody who believed that Liam Fox had a future as a frontbencher in politics.

But yesterday, in a broadcast interview, the man who was forced to resign over odd goings-on concerning his friend Adam Werritty, payments and unauthorised security access provided for him, declared himself ready to return to the Cabinet.

If ever there was proof that it is increasingly difficult to kill off a political career, Dr Fox appears to be providing it because his statement, which some might put down to a misjudgment of his own powers of recovery, follows briefings from senior Tories that he is on the point of a return.

Yet why could this happen? Most of what Dr Fox did as defence secretary, the role he loved, has been unpicked by his bureaucratic bean-counter successor Philip Hammond, largely because it did not make sense.

Dr Fox was responsible for the disastrous decision to switch aircraft for the new aircraft carriers, which then had to be reversed, and in Scotland it looks likely that his vision of doubling the size of the army and building a new super barracks will not be met. Much more has been changed, including the very structure of the army.

The one thing that seems to have remained from his brief legacy is the continued commitment to keeping Trident and bringing in a replacement deterrent.

A possible return for Dr Fox cannot be attributed to his sharing of a common political cause. Dr Fox is, after all, no moderniser. He and David Cameron represent very different forms of Conservatism.

Socially too, the council house boy from East Kilbride never really warmed to the Eton set around the Prime Minister.

If he returns, then it can be put down to two things.

First, he has remained largely loyal on the backbenches while making intelligent and constructive policy suggestions.

But second, and far more importantly, he is one of the chief bulwarks against a growing right-wing backbench rebellion which the Prime Minister is facing despite last week’s victory in Europe.

The gay marriage vote, where more Tory MPs voted against Cameron’s reform than supported it, was a sign that he is in real trouble with his party.

It was noticeable that after Fox’s departure and the failure to replace him with somebody from the right, leaving an unbalanced cabinet, the rebellions and mutterings of a leadership challenge just increased.

The Prime Minister knows that one of the few people who can remain loyal and galvanise the right wing in his party is Dr Fox. So while a full-scale reshuffle is not on the cards any time soon, it would not be surprising if the former defence secretary is back at some point in the Cabinet.