Liam Fox shows David Cameron how to lead the Tories to a historic defeat

11 March 2013

3:27 PM

11 March 2013

3:27 PM

I think it is fair to say that Dr Liam Fox has never been one of David Cameron’s chief chums. The former Defence Secretary has, as Paul Goodman notes, been closer to George Osborne. Be that as it may, his speech today is a fine reminder of Dr Fox’s political limitations. This is the kind of stuff – and the kind of man, frankly – that helps explain why the Conservative party has not won a general election majority since 1992.

Think on that and think on how much Britain has changed these past 21 years and how little the Tory party has. Dr Fox ignored all this, delivering a call to arms like it was 1981 All Over Again. But it is not. According to Fox, however:

The great socialist coup of the last decade was making wealth an embarrassment. It is not. It is the prize for aspiration and hard-work and its side effects are higher tax revenues, more jobs and more investment.

Oh really? This is – and I apologise for using the technical term here – moronic. But what a way to make it seem as though your party really is more concerned with the troubles of the super-wealthy than with the fate of the middle and aspiring-to-be-middle classes. Is Fox really ignorant of the fact that, in real terms, average earnings have been stagnant for a decade? Is he really unaware that this misfortune has not applied to the wealthiest Britons whose remuneration has increased considerably in real terms and vastly more, relatively speaking, than the pay received by Britons on average or below average earnings.

If this reflects a government-sponsored programme designed to shame the wealthy then, blimey, it is even less effective than most government programmes. I see little embarrassment about wealth on the Tory benches anyway. It’s not the actual toffs who are the problem; it’s the grasping and thrusting self-made Tories who sneer that the rest of the country could be just like them if only they were prepared to bloody work hard enough. This, of course, is meretricious twaddle.  These are the Tories who make Mitt Romney look like a political genius.

Strivers vs shirkers? Give me a break. Most people are neither. Most people don’t want to set up a business of their own. Most people just want a decent job, some security, and the promise that government will try and make things a little easier than they used to be. A square deal for the ordinary bloke, so to speak.

So what does Liam Fox talk about? Inheritance tax and capital gains tax! Heckuva way of showing how “in touch” you are! Perhaps the inheritance tax threshold should be increased. But it is difficult to see how the person benefitting from the inheritance has really earned it. It certainly does not seem to require much “hard work” of the sort praised by Dr Fox. Similarly, I doubt scrapping Capital Gains Tax is the kind of policy liable to prove popular or demonstrate this is a government sympathetic to the struggles of the ordinary man or woman.

I suppose the Prime Minister could take Dr Fox’s advice. Perhaps Mr Cameron fancies leading the Tories to an historic defeat.


I continue to think that cutting the rate of income tax payable by the wealthiest Britons was a dreadful political blunder. Perhaps Mr Osborne agreed with Dr Fox, concluding that the rich had suffered embarrassment enough and needed some tea, sympathy and cheering-up.

I wonder about this, however. Consider two contrasting stories today. Felix Salmon has an excellent post demonstrating that, as best it can be understood by the layman, Goldman Sachs really do give the impression of being a thoroughly untrustworthy bunch of people. They appear to have made millions from ripping off their own clients. Goldman bankers, like other City of London types, are Extremely Important People Whom Britain Cannot Afford to Lose. Perhaps this is true but there is something rather craven about admitting it and something worse about celebrating it. The City, meanwhile, seems pretty unembarrassable.

Contrast this with the story told by my friend Neill Harvey-Smith.

My Dad is 60. He has lived in his home since 1982. When he moved in, there was him, my Mum, me and my two sisters in a three-bedroom semi. Now it’s just him. Most of the neighbouring properties, like so many council houses, have been bought up, and the street looks ten times better than when we were growing up. Dad lives in one of the few properties still controlled by a housing association. He doesn’t have a job. He has cancer.

If Dad were a year older, he would be exempt. But as he is (only!) 60, his disposable weekly income stands to fall from £102 to £69. Of that fall, £28 is the reduction in housing benefit – the bedroom tax – and £5 a reduction in council tax benefit. Remember, I agree with you. The bedroom tax is not a tax. But come and discuss the semantics of transfer payments with my Dad.

Indeed. As he notes, the “bedroom tax” might be justifiable if there were a surplus of one bedroom properties into which tenants might move so as to make more efficient use of the housing stock. But there is no such surplus. Many of the people being nudged to move house will not actually move house.

As Neill intimates, this is going to be a disaster for the government:

The government has promised savings that materialise from people staying, and freed up housing that only materialises by them going. Two thirds of the people affected are disabled.

And they have families and friends too, few of whom will be made more likely to vote Conservative by this measure.

As I say, the bedroom tax and the latest scandal at Goldman Sachs seem unconnected. But it tells you far too much that leading Tories get exercised by one but not the other. Worse still, the Tories have positioned themselves as the party of Goldman Sachs and the party of the Bedroom Tax. That’s a double-whammy of stupidity.

What you choose to talk about sends a message of its own that’s quite independent of the content of your talk. Too many Tories seem hopelessly unaware of this. Perhaps Capital Gains Tax is important but time spent talking about it is time spent sending a message to most voters that you’re not as concerned by the issues that affect them as much as you might be.

Similarly, normal people hear whining about the troubles of being rich and wonder what the hell it is the Conservatives are talking about. This has been a pretty good decade in which to be wealthy. The last Labour government were a pretty ineffectual group of class warriors and their replacement by Mr Osborne and Co has not introduced any more rain into the lives of the super-wealthy.

Perhaps Dr Fox thinks such concerns are childish or wimpy. But the contrast between the present mean-spirited Tory traditionalists and more radical conservatives of the past is stark. A little more Teddy Roosevelt might go some way towards helping the party reconnect on economic matters.

Instead we get this tripe about how tough it is to be unusually wealthy. That’s a great way to ensure Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister. Worse still, the hapless Mr Miliband won’t even need to have earned the keys.



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Show comments
  • martinvickers

    Silly , stupid, foreign, human rights, like freedom of expression, and enjoyment of property. Bah, who needs ’em. Parliament supremacy’s all we Brit’s need, right?


  • Kubrickguy

    Politics of envy and punitive taxes are destroying France:

    “Dassualt boss considers future in-France as tax rises-loom.”

  • Kubrickguy

    This is an incredibly one sided article. Liam Fox is simply putting an alternative Libertarian / Hayek view on which way the budget should go. We are all in agreement that austerity needs to be balanced with stimulus. The left would have it that the stimulus should be provided by more public spending which in turn must be funded through higher taxes, which have historically been proven to strangle the economy or through more borrowing which we can not afford. Dr Fox’s proposals are that we lower taxation, duty and red tape and breath fresh life into the economy. This form of economics has accounted for the success of Hong Kong, the model much of Asia has successfully emulated, including China. France has taken to opposite route via Mr Hollande and is currently imposing 75% tax and more red tape and regulation which in effect is killing the French economy. The tone and use of the word ‘moronic’ in this article frankly says more about the writer than it does about the realities and serious state of our economy and detracts from reasoned debate and the quest for a working solution in the interest of us all…

    • Newsbot9

      Fox’s proposals are more of the same. Cut tax for the rich, and hope it dribbles down rather than gets sent offshore. In vain.

      There is no correlation between red tape and economic success – high regulation Germany…heck, there’s considerable evidence that high German worker productivity is due to their strict working time hours!

  • mhjames

    Yes, truth is irrelevant in politics. Liam Fox is right, but so what?

    • Augustus

      Unfortunately a large proportion of the typical population are borderline cretins. They have particular trouble understanding that one cannot just go on spending more money than one takes in. So they are incapable of making sensible decisions at elections.

  • Mike Barnes

    If people wanted this nonsense they’d have voted for it in 2001, or even 2005 the last time it was offered to them.

    Face it, the only way the Tories even got near 10 Downing Street was because Call Me Dave is a nice guy who is much, MUCH more popular than his party.

    Dr Fox would lead them back into realms of oblivion of the Hague, IDS, Howard opposition party. 160 seats wasn’t it?

  • ScaryBiscuits

    This is the kind of stuff – and the kind of man, frankly – that helps explain why the Conservative party has not won a general election majority since 1992.
    A great un-provable claim. We have very little evidence to judge whether a true Conservative can win an election because one hasn’t stood for election since 1987 and nor has Dr Fox. Instead we’ve had John Major, who did well conning people into thinking he was a Conservative in 1992 and then paid a heavy price in 1997 when people found him out. Then we had Hague (2001) trying to sound like a Conservative (and know that he’s in government we know how hard that must of been). IDS wasn’t allowed to go to the people despite having won the popular vote amongst party members. Howard (2005) was demonised as some evil right-winger but was in fact the choice of the party oligopoly, as is Cameron who famously managed to not to win an un-losable election (2010) and has gone downhill since.
    Fox may not be the answer but clearly neither is Cameron. People like Massie support Cameron in print but then vote Labour. And indeed Cameron is Labour’s greatest ally and UKIP’s greatest recruiting sergeant.
    The next leader of the Conservative is not, despite what or the commentators inside the bubble think, going to come from the current generation, giving us a reheat of policies that haven’t really changed since Major talked about a ‘classless society’ 1990. Only when a genuinely new party under a new leader who unites where Cameron has divided will win an election for the right. I don’t expect many on this blog to agree with this but judging by comments here so far, there aren’t many Tories reading the Spectator blogs these days.

    • Newsbot9

      Sure, and the only way you’ll get that party is shifting the voting system away from FPTP. Of course, that also means they’ll be a left-wing party…

  • Count Dooku

    While Fox might have his tax cutting priorities wrong, the fact remains that as a country we are overtaxed. Both the rich and the poor. Your whole article is basically one huge rant against those who pay their taxes and contribute.
    I care not one jot for people who didn’t have the wherewithal to look after themselves. If they were born able, they have no reason to be solely reliant on the state barring serious injury. We need to look ourselves in the mirror and decide if we are going to be a country of parasitic mediocrity, or one were we applaud success and strive to attain it.

    • Newsbot9

      Indeed. Keep applauding your rich parasites.

  • Gaudi

    Great article and one which all Tory supporters of Dr Fox should read. I simply can’t get over the cheek of the man. He is a failure with absolutely no political insight or common sense it seems. I struggle to see why he gets so much media attention other than the discomfort it causes Mr Cameron.

  • Carlazi

    Simply WOW. I had to check i was reading the spectator.
    The substance of the article is all true but the present situation in the conservative party would not allow these thoughts to ever enter their minds, ever! The bedroom ‘tax/subsidy’ is another pasty tax, it makes theoretical sense but in the real world application its a political disaster. I don’t know anyone effected by this measure but i can assure you that Newsnight/C4 news will make sure i know 20 families by the end of April. This will make my voting decision in May all the more difficult.
    Can you imagine if Farage comes out and says he will scrape it!?!?

    • Tony Quintus

      Actually they’ve been hard pressed to find one and have had to resort to an MPs youtube video.

  • Nick Reid

    I remember when Osborne raised CGT to 28% he said that he had chosen this rate as all the Treasury analysis showed that 28% was the top of the Laffer Curve for CGT. It raised the largest amount of tax without causing entrepreneurial activity to fall.

    It was the same argument that he used for reducing the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%.

    Liam Fox presents few actual evidenced arguments that a regime of lower taxes will have any positive impact on the UK economy. Just an ideological wish for lower taxes. In this he is as economically naive as many left wingers who believe that raising tax rates on the rich will clear the deficit and have no negative impact on investment or jobs.

    • jaydeepee

      I think most left-wingers, as you call them (it’s much broader than just one side of the political spectrum), are calling upon the gov’t to enforce tax policy and change it where required to ensure that tax dodging by companies is penalised.Then you can move onto individuals who are easier to catch. That’s where the money should be coming from.

      • Mr Frost

        The frigtenening thing about your post is that you seem oblivious to the assualt on liberty that your proposal inflicts.

        Dark days.

        • Newsbot9

          Yes, dark days for criminals when people are not allowed to cheat tax!

  • Peter Reynolds

    What would make the Tories even more certain of defeat would be to elect Theresa May as leader

  • Troika21

    In order to benefit from lowering tax rates people need to be earning money in the first place.

    And if Liam Fox believes so much in hard work then he should support raising inheritance tax to 90%. Build a fortune after that, and I’ll agree you’ve earn’t it.

    • Newsbot9

      Indeed, I believe the latest childcare wheeze is based off tax. Shame about poor mothers.

  • FF42

    Keen activists choose the leader. Those that have not or might not vote for you will decide the government. Mr Fox, reasonably, is concentrating on the first part of the equation. It;s up to the activists to be aware of the second part

    • andagain

      True. Most of our politicians seem to care far more about what the party faithful thinks of them, than about what the mere voters think of them.

  • martinvickers

    Last time I checked, Dr Fox’s entire career consisted of university at nil fees, NHS practice, followed by a short stint as an army medic, followed by Westminster. In other words, this champion of the neo-liberal right has spent his entire life on the public teat while chastising others…for being on the public teat.

    Oh, and that’s before we mention Mr Werritty.

    Seriously, guys? THIS GUY is your champion?

    • White Wednesday

      Regrettably I agree. The Right has been poorly served for years by the likes of Liam Fox and David Davis which is why we’re now lumbered with Cameronism. [Remember that a key part of Cameron becoming leader was because David Davis’ crucial leadership speech was rubbish.]

      • embrewer

        I only wish Davis had become leader. He’s unelectable as P.M.

    • TheLeveller

      You missed out state education and lived in council housing. I only add this for complete balance

      • martinvickers

        I left those out as he can hardly be considered a sponger for whst he got as a child…certainly increases the hypocrit quotient, though…

  • keeshond

    UKIP treasurer and former Conservative benefactor, Stuart Wheeler fervently applauded Liam Fox’s speech calling for the reverse of “the great socialist coup of the last decade” in public spending. Apparently he later became embarrassed when reminded that Fox had claimed so much public money on expenses, both as Defence Secretary and as an opposition MP, to pay the bills of his friend and “adviser” Adam Werritty.

    • djkm

      Bandying about the world ‘socialist’ as if it’s some kind of swear word does neither party any favours. Didn’t work for the republicans, won’t work for the conservatives.

      Although the term ‘anti-social(ist)’ does seem to fit quite well for some of the policy decisions they’ve made.

      • jaydeepee

        Bandying around the word ‘socialist’ when applied to Tony Blair and New Labour confirms that you are, indeed, a dolt; a moron and a subsidy swallowing pampered MP with little or no sense of irony and with a large wallet to cram your tax-payer funded ill-gotten subsidies into!

  • davey

    I really cannot understand anyone thinking that challenging Cameron’s leadership is a good idea. He’s a pretty rubbish PM – no clear agenda to speak of, no real values, and clearly has one eye on the ‘out door’ and the post-PM riches Blair enjoys, but all the same, he’s more or less the Tories’ only real asset in electoral terms at the moment.

    The idea of floating voters being more easily won over by May or Gove – who is a charisma vacuum however much his mates the media might pretend otherwise – is laughable.

    • koe

      true, and true. However, is Labour so different? I do not understand why the conservatives are different from Labour at the end of the policy making day.

      • Newsbot9

        That’s thanks to Labour’s steady rightward shift rather than anything the Conservatives have done, though.

  • Bill Kenny

    Liam Fox is obviously on the right road if he has managed to get so far up Alex Massie’s nose.