Liam Fox resigned as defence secretary this afternoon, falling on his sword after more than a week of damaging revelations, reports Left Foot Forward’s Shamik Das.
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• Liam Fox resigned as defence secretary this afternoon, falling on his sword after more than a week of damaging revelations.
In his resignation letter to the prime minister, he wrote:
“I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred. The consequences of this have become clearer in recent days. I am very sorry for this.
“I have also repeatedly said that the national interest must always come before personal interest. I now have to hold myself to my own standard.
“I have therefore decided, with great sadness, to resign from my post as Secretary of State for Defence – a position which I have been immensely proud and honoured to have held.”
Of his finest hour, the overthrow of Gaddafi, he adds:
“I am proud also to have played a part in helping to liberate the people of Libya, and I regret that I will not see through to its conclusion Britain’s role in Afghanistan, where so much progress has been made.
“Above all, I am honoured and humbled to have worked with the superb men and women in our Armed Forces. Their bravery, dedication and professionalism are second to none.”
David Cameron’s reply reads:
“I understand your reasons for deciding to resign as defence secretary, although I am very sorry to see you go…
“On Libya, you played a key role in the campaign to stop people being massacred by the Gaddafi regime and instead win their freedom. You can be proud of the difference you have made in your time in office, and in helping our party to return to government.”
Fox will be replaced as defence secretary by Philip Hammond.
It appears this morning’s headlines were the last straw for Fox, the Times, Telegraph and Mail all digging into Adam Werritty’s financial affairs, his links with lobbyists and defence contractors in particular – read more in our round up of today’s earlier revelations here.
• Onto the economy, and this week saw record high unemployment figures – with the picture on youth unemployment particularly grim.
Unemployment rose 114,000 between June and August to 2.57 million – a 17-year high; the rate rose 0.4 points to 8.1 per cent – the highest for 15 years; and youth unemployment rose 74,000 to 991,000, a rise of 1.6 points to 21.3% – the highest rate and level for 16-24 year old unemployment since comparable records began 19 years ago.
On the day the figures came out, Wednesday, the news dominated proceedings in the House of Commons, both at Prime Minister’s Questions, and then in Labour’s Opposition Day Debate on the economy, which saw Labour’s new economic frontbench team of shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Rachel Reeves take on George Osborne and Danny Alexander, demanding they do more on jobs and growth.
Labour’s five-point plan for jobs, which was debated on Wednesday, called for:
• A £2 billion tax on bank bonuses to fund 100,000 jobs for young people – which they would be required to take-up – and build 25,000 more affordable homes;
• Bringing forward long-term investment projects – schools, roads and transport – to get people back to work and strengthen our economy for the future;
• Reversing January’s damaging VAT rise now for a temporary period – a £450 boost for a couple with children – immediate help for our high streets and for struggling families and pensioners;
• A one year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements, repairs and maintenance – to help homeowners and small businesses; and
• A one year national insurance tax break for every small firm which takes on extra workers – helping small businesses to grow and create jobs.
As we reported on Left Foot Forward this week, the record joblessness figures are solely the fault of the government (see here), with the devolved governments in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales calling on the UK government to do more to create jobs (see here).
And on Mr Osborne, we reported how even more economists have taken to the press to offer him advice on how to get the economy growing again, advice he’ll most likely ignore (see here), and how his economic policy appears to be borne of a supreme arrogance that he’ll stick to his plans, that just haven’t been working, come what may, sticking his fingers in his ears and his head in the sand – whatever the consequences (see here).
• In the House of Lords, meanwhile, the coalition’s controversial NHS reforms were debated and voted on.
Lord Owen’s amendment, which would have referred the health and social care bill to a select committee for a line-by-line deconstruction – and effectively kill the bill – was defeated 330-262; an earlier amendment from Labour’s Lord Rea, that would have completely destroyed it, went down 324-220.
Addressing the Lords on Tuesday, Lord Owen described the bill as it stands as a threat to the NHS like never before:
“Health is not a public utility. Health is different. Sometimes the health professionals have talked too much about money to ministers of health, as Enoch Powell in a classic speech said. We must cherish the fact that it is a pool of altruism in our society. It is different.
“People commit hours of time – surgeons and porters, nurses and physiotherapists – far beyond the call of duty, ignoring the EU directives time after time. Are we going to foster that, are we going to keep it?
“Now the other purist issue – firstly to go for an external market, and secondly to think you can separate out the running of the health service entirely in its production from the secretary of state.”
On Question Time last night, the health secretary was told to his face by a GP exactly what was wrong with the bill – especially the bill’s obsession with competition at the expense of compassion, care, collaboration, cooperation, transparency, openness, accountability and integration. Watch a video of Dr Phil Hammond leaving Andrew Lansley floundering, out of his depth and lost for words on Left Foot Forward here.
Also on the NHS, we reported today how waiting times have skyrocketed 48 per cent since this government oversaw a re-examination of targets that encouraged hospitals to keep them low; we will have more on the NHS this weekend on Left Foot Forward.
Progressive of the week:
Labour MP for Islwyn Chris Evans, who delivered one of the most passionate, heartfelt speeches in the Opposition Day debate on the economy on Wednesday – the day record high unemployment figures came out.
“In my own constituency this evening, there are 2,000 people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance, 40 per cent of those are under the age of 24, and behind those figures, there are real human tragedies, it’s about the kids leaving school with no hope for the future, their only hope might be, let’s hope they do not be driven into the hands of drug dealers, or get involved in crime because they believe there is no hope in the future, there is the hard working family coming home tonight, saying to his family, ‘I’ve been made redundant after 20 years’, and it his his wife who is worrying, and it’s the single parent, who is bringing up children on her own, who has just lost her job, what does she do?”
“The thing is when you’re unemployed, and I don’t know how many people in this chamber tonight have been unemployed, it’s soul destroying, it reduces confidence, in the worst cases, it brings about depression, and if anybody wants to see a microcosm of the economy then walk down the local high street; is there nothing more sad and depressing, than seeing the butcher, the baker, even the candlestick maker, all boarded up?
“There is nothing worse, and there is nothing that says any more, than the economy is not working.”
Watch a video of the speech on Left Foot Forward here.
Regressive of the week:
Tory MEP for the East Midlands Roger Helmer, who announced he was resigning this week, and his successor Rupert Matthews. The horrendousness of Helmer has long been known, from his sickening comments about rape to his climate denial to his irrational fear of Hindus – see our articles here, here, here, here and here for starters.
Onto Matthews, then, exposed this week as the publisher of the ‘golliwog book’ that was on sale at the Tory party conference last week. Read more about this bizarre, borderline-bigoted individual in our article here.
Evidence of the week:
“There can be almost no chance of eradicating child poverty – as defined in the Child Poverty Act 2010 – on current government policy…
“It now seems almost incredible that the targets can be met, yet the government confirmed its commitment to them earlier this year, in its first Child Poverty Strategy, and remains legally bound to hit them.”
The World Outside Westminster by The Grapevine’s Chris Tarquini:
Flavour of the week in the Republican presidential primary race is Herman Cain – former Godfather’s Pizza CEO – who said about the Wall Street occupiers that it was “your own fault” if you didn’t have a job, whilst defending Wall Street. Yesterday’s NBC Wall Street Journal poll has Cain on 27 per cent, ahead of Mitt Romney on 23% and Rick Perry on 16%. Another poll from Rasmussen shows Cain and Romney in a dead heat.
Cain’s ‘9-9-9’ plan has been slammed by both the media and his rivals, and further questions were raised when it emerged in the Huffington Post that the 9-9-9 plan was also previously used in the hit computer game ‘Sim City’.
Whilst Perry still struggles in the polls, Romney was boosted by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had previously been under pressure to run. The face of straight talking will help counter attacks on Romney from Perry, like this aggressive new ad that Romney is a flip-flopper who is a ‘Rhino’ and a carbon copy of Obama.
President Obama, meanwhile, has a 40% approval rate with 53% disapproval in the latest Gallup tracking poll.
The big news from the Middle East this week was the deal to secure the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Speaking to Bloomberg yesterday, Quartet representative Tony Blair said the release may “provide the opportunity for an opening up” in the peace process – watch the interview in full here.
Elsewhere, Silvio Berlusconi survived a confidence vote in the Italian parliament today over his handling of the economy and personal scandals – by 316-301.
Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has replaced two thirds of the country’s police officers in a purge aimed at rooting out corruption.
And finally this week, after 485 days – sixteen months – it appears the impasse in Belgium is finally over, with a new coalition government set to be formed. Read our report today for more.
Ed Jacobs’s Week Outside Westminster:
The murder at the hands of loyalist dissidents of the solicitor, Pat Finucane, in 1989, once again caused controversy as the government ruled out a full inquiry into his death, opting instead for a QC led ‘review’. Expressing their anger at the decision, the Finucane family walked out of a meeting at Downing Street having been told the news by the prime minister himself.
Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, today branded David Cameron “dishonourable” after he established a review led by a lawyer into the killing, which involved state collusion with the loyalist killers, accusing him of reneging on an agreement to order a public inquiry into his death.
“Not only were my family and I forced to listen to the Prime Minister of Britain renege on a promise made by the British Government, we had to hear him tell us, over and over, what it was that we really wanted, how we wanted to achieve it and what our ultimate response would be.
“It was clear within minutes that we had been lured to Downing Street under false pretences by a disreputable Government led by a dishonourable man.”
Outlining his support for the family, leading lawyer Michael Mansfield QC added:
“I think it is a flagrant breach of trust. The family have approached this with considerable dignity and considerable restraint over the years. Remember that this family was promised a public inquiry.
“It was first held out to them by prime minister, Tony Blair, at the time of the peace process. The undertaking was that, if collusion was shown to have taken place between state agencies and those responsible for pulling the trigger, then there would be an inquiry.”
Addressing the Liverpool-based Institute of Irish Studies on Wednesday, meanwhile, DUP leader and first minister Peter Robinson admitted his party had fallen short in preparing its supporters for the reality of power sharing with Sinn Fein.
Speaking to those present, he concluded:
“I would admit the party fell short in preparing its support base. The process had been so slow and the final agreement reached so fast that there was a sense of shock when a deal was announced at St Andrew’s.”
It was a busy political week in Scotland despite Holyrood being in recess, a week dominated once again by the debate over independence. As part of its Disunited Kingdom series, the Guardian carried the case for and against independence – shaping the battle to come.
Interviewed by the paper, first minister Alex Salmond warned the Lib-Con coalition in Westminster:
“I don’t believe that the Conservative and Liberal coalition has yet come to terms with the fact that they’ve no mandate to run Scotland, no mandate whatsoever, not a scintilla of a mandate. This is the third and fourth parties in combination without a majority in Scotland.
“They’re losing support; losing grip with reality. It’s absurd for a prime minister to assume he has any legitimacy in instructing the Scottish parliament when they should hold a referendum on Scotland’s constitutional future when we’ve got an impeccable mandate reinforced by a massive popular assent while they’ve no mandate whatsoever.
“The days of Tory PMs telling Scotland what to do are over and the fact that David Cameron doesn’t seem to appreciate that, and doesn’t seem to understand the dangerous territory on which he’s treading, is a remarkable feature.”
In contrast, Labour’s leader at Holyrood, Iain Gray, turned his fire on Salmond himself, declaring in the Guardian:
“After almost five years in power Alex Salmond’s vision of an independent Scotland remains hazy. He cannot tell us when his referendum will be, what the question is, what currency we will have, how we will be defended.
“It would appear we will have Nordic social democracy and low tax rates. Even Rab C Nesbitt knows you can’t have both. So does Scotland. That is why most Scots want a strong Scottish parliament in a devolved United Kingdom.”
Elsewhere, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander had a sober message for his party north of the border, using an article in the Scotsman to warn:
“Labour in opposition was seen as too often concerned only with opposition for its own sake. Too many Scots judged us to have complained in unspecified ways about the SNP’s failure to deliver, without articulating a clear enough alternative story and account of Scotland’s possibilities.”
The announcement of the Commission on Welsh Devolution was welcomed by all parties in Cardiff Bay, with first minister Carwyn Jones calling for “quick progress”.
“We will seek to work positively with the commission while also continuing to press hard for a funding floor and borrowing powers in the ongoing inter-governmental talks.
“Those talks will continue while the new commission carries out its work. But this is a twin-track process – progress on issues of accountability can only be made if there is also real progress on fair funding and borrowing powers.
“Wales needs a comprehensive package of financial reforms that delivers a fairer, more stable settlement.”
Outlining the fund, business minister Edwina Hart said:
“Our new £75m ‘Jobs Growth Wales’ scheme will create 4,000 jobs a year for three years for young jobseekers across Wales and our extended ‘Adapt’ programme is targeting people who have lost jobs in the public sector and is helping them to retrain and to get back into work.”
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