Who among us hasn’t, at one time or another, tried to use our influence to help our friends? I’ll tell you who hasn’t; the people who don’t have any influence worth using.
Be that as it may; for most of us, this rarely goes beyond getting someone tickets to a show or admitted to a lock-in. It’s just not within our gift, for example, to bring our Bessie-mates along to international conferences so they can sit in with us on cosy meetings with Iranian security experts.
Probity has been sorely compromised by the Fox-Werritty affair; this has been found and conceded by all parties concerned at this stage. Prima facie, it’s just another textbook tale of governmental mendacity; another dirty brown envelope story, more or less. No kickbacks have been proven, but the stench of impropriety still lingers over the whole debacle like a fart in a phonebox.
The real danger however with the Fox-Werritty affair is that coverage becomes fixated on the minutiae rather than trying to put these events in their context. And there is plenty of devil in the detail; just looking at the web of companies and charities that were used to keep Werritty’s dealings off the radar is an exemplary exercise in the demystification of bureaucratic obfuscation. But rather than just wondering about the propriety of Fox’s actions, we should be seeking to put them in context.
" After it emerged that private equity specialist Jon Moulton made a payment (understood to be around £35,000) to Pargav, a company owned by the Defence Secretary’s friend Adam Werritty, the media started joining the dots. And it goes something like this: In February 2010, Jon Moulton reportedly paid £60m for Gardner UK, an aircraft component maker which supplies parts for RAF fighter jets and troop transporters.
It would appear that the contribution in question coincided with the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) in October 2010 which would determine the future shape of the Armed Forces. It’s also generally seen as coincidental that no Gardner UK contracts were lost in that swingeing review which saw the MoD facing cuts of 8% to its £37bn budget over the five years to 2014...
Mr Moulton soon found himself answering to a hastily convened investigation conducted by Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell. Moulton told reporters ‘that as well as handing over documents to Sir Gus's team there had been a "conversation" in which he gave his account of how Mr Fox had requested money for the not-for-profit company Pargav, which, he claimed, was dedicated to "security policy analysis and research"’. As it goes, those donations had been used to fund Werritty's junkets, often in the company of his good buddy the Defence Secretary.
Mr Moulton responded personally when this article was published by Sabotage Times: "Gardner has no MOD contracts, 3% of its sales to UK military and neither sought nor obtained any contracts in anyway related to the Pargav partying! Junket funding was not the objective either.... Nor did I purchase Gardner - rather a fund I own a minority in bought control of it but for a lot less than £60m...."
Hintze’s hi-tech firm L-3 seemed to profit, if not from his relationship with the Defence Secretary and his self-styled advisor, then certainly from the decision to scrap the entire fleet of Nimrod surveillance aircraft last year. Fox told the Commons in July that the MoD would acquire three US-built Boeing RC-135 RivetJoint aircraft to replace Nimrod. It would cost around £650m and the aircraft would be supplied by L-3.
The laundry list of Fox’s questionable contacts and inappropriate meetings seemed to get longer by the day. They revolve around the 40 or visits that Werritty paid to his mate at the MoD.
Among other things, Liam Fox and Adam Werritty have been characterised as Mossad stool pigeons or ‘useful idiots’ who might be duped into furthering Israeli foreign policy objectives (regarding the destabilisation of Iran). These kind stories may not be helpful, provable or even credible but they do ask the question: Can the prime minister really be in full control of this government if his defence minister and an unaccredited flunkey can effectively conduct an alternative foreign policy under his nose?
But if you don’t buy into the crypto- Zionist schtick, there is always the connection of Fox’s now defunct Atlantic Bridge charity with the less than wholesome world of private military contractors to fulminate over. Board member John Falk is also the managing director of Kestral-USA and has described himself as an adviser to Dr Fox as Shadow Defence Secretary. Kestral-USA contracts with Blackwater, a notorious private military company implicated in the killings of dozens of Iraqi civilians.
Perhaps the propriety of Fox’s actions should be viewed in the context of how the rest of this government conducts itself. We already have well-documented reports of Mr Cameron’s cosy dealings with the well-connected denizens of a little Oxfordshire village and how they have embarrassed HM Government and will probably continue to do so. Cameron, it would appear, wanders through a slow dream where he remembers none of the people he has dealings with, particularly if they turn out to be less than paragons of probity.
George Osborne has been photographed on board opulent yachts enjoying the gemütlichkeit of Russian tycoons with Peter Mandelson. While that in itself is probably not illegal, it certainly gives the rest of us an unflattering keyhole glimpse of a world peopled by plump, rich, white men.
The Prime Minister was apparently at Fox’s wedding yet appears to have no memory of the best man. He also reportedly been a beneficiary of the munificence of the same people who have bankrolled Fox-Werrity projects such as the Atlantic Bridge.
Cameron’s chum and Chancellor, George Osborne has, in the past, been photographed on board opulent yachts enjoying the gemütlichkeit of Russian tycoons with Peter Mandelson. Now, while that in itself is probably not illegal, it certainly gives the rest of us an unflattering keyhole glimpse of a world peopled by plump, rich, white men in bathing suits, lounging in deckchairs and doing deals that may ultimately take food out of our kids’ mouths and funding from our schools and hospitals.
Apart from the more general ongoing debate about standards in public life, there are two major issues that need to be addressed at the heel of this hunt, namely: the regulation of lobbying and a closer scrutiny of defence overspend.
According to one commentator in the defence trade press: “If the resignation of British Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP leads to anything, it should be this: a statutory register of professional political lobbyists in the UK that is backed up by a compulsory code of professional conduct, a move which should be mirrored by the introduction of compulsory registration and a legally binding code of practice for lobbyists in Europe.” There are rules on political lobbying, but as yet, no law compelling lobbyists to register their activities.
And even now, there seems to be little appetite in Downing Street for such reform. It’s unlikely that a shake-up of this less than transparent adjunct of the Westminster village will even be scheduled before 2012. Given the obscure and often incestuous links between MPs, lobbyists and journalists, it’s perhaps unsurprising that efforts are being made to kick this one into the long grass.
Then there is the parlous state of the MOD’s finances to consider. A parliamentary watchdog said that Britain would need to cancel more defence projects or re-negotiate contracts to cut military spending according to Reuters on Tuesday 18 October. The MoD's "continuing failure" to manage spending on major defence projects was slammed.
Multi-billion pound overruns persist and now, Philip Hammond is the sixth Defence Secretary through the revolving door since 2005.
The UK defence sector is probably hoping for a change of direction under Hammond but the likelihood is that the reforms commenced by Fox and underpinned by the October 2010 Review, will run their course. Fox, before his deposal, had already taken all the hard decisions and driven them through so now, even if Hammond were so minded, he has precious little largesse to dole out.
According to Jane’s, the leading defence weekly, “ Equipment and platform programmes valued at £20bn have already been culled or drastically truncated: 17,000 service personnel and 25,000 ministry civilians have been earmarked for redundancy and overall defence spending is heading to a reduction of at least 8% from 2010-14.”
Another story in the news this week suggested that Fox’s putative links with mercenary companies might yet prove prescient. According to the Press Association earlier this week, Major General Binns, who commanded coalition forces in southern Iraq from mid-2007 to early 2008 (and is the current chief executive of British private security company Aegis Defence Services), suggested that defence cuts will result in British military commanders having to rely on private security firms to carry out future operations.
With reports that Cameron’s Libyan adventure in destabilisation might actually end up costing as much as £1.75bn (as opposed to the mere hundreds of millions we’d been told) that could, if true, prove be a headache for Hammond as he tries to balance the defence budget. Let’s hope he doesn’t have too many skeletons in his closet...
Is it just me or does a political scandal erupt every time we face threats to defence spending? While the Daily Telegraph is to be commended for its coverage of the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009, let’s not forget how that story was originally sourced (through the agency of an army officer acting ‘independently’ and apparently dissatisfied with how troops were being equipped for duty in Afghanistan).
Of course, in all this Fox-hunting, we may have lost our way and now even after the press hounds have run their quarry down, we still can’t see the wood for the trees. The unfortunate truth of this affair is that while Liam Fox’s rise and fall neatly exemplifies that old cliché about all political lives ending in failure; he may in the end only be guilty of a course of conduct over his career that could be just as easily attributed to a sizeable number of serving MPs.
Read more from Sean Flynn here The Rusty Wire Service
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