John Woodcock: Cameron keeps Fox floundering

What to do when a man you dislike intensely is floundering in choppy waters? The Prime Minister seems to favour throwing in a life belt while keeping a foot firmly on his beleaguered colleague's head.

John Woodcock: Cameron keeps Fox floundering
John Woodcock: Cameron keeps Fox floundering

Comments from Downing Street over the allegations surrounding Liam Fox and Adam Werritty have seemed to put the knife in without going in for the kill.

On Saturday, the Number 10 spokesman was making clear that the Prime Minister was reserving judgement on his Defence Secretary while an internal examination of his conduct was rushed through. By Sunday, as Fox teetered on the brink, the centre made its expressions of confidence a little warmer.

Then yesterday, after the Defence Secretary's ordeal at the House of Commons despatch box, Downing Street seemed to dunk him right back in it, saying he had made 'serious mistakes'. And yet, at the point of going to print, he remains in post and David Cameron has dragged his feet over the one thing that could bring closure on the issue - referring the matter to the independent adviser on ministers' interests.

Why the reluctance to subject the matter to an independent and transparent investigation, rather than an in-house one? After all, as leader of the opposition through the expenses scandal, Cameron repeatedly invoked the power of 'sunlight' as the best 'disinfectant' for wrongdoing.

An independent investigation would allow the Government to move on and go some way towards stopping the contamination spreading. Either Fox would be sacked and the Government could rebuild, or an independent assessment of his transgressions would allow them to draw a line under the affair.

To any neutral observer, allowing such an important position to be occupied by a mortally wounded figure is not in the interests of the country. But it may suit Cameron's narrow party interests. After all, a damaged rival who must crawl on under the yoke of cabinet responsibility is less of a threat than an angry standard bearer of the right set free to agitate on the backbenches.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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