Magazine article The Spectator

Foxing the Government

Magazine article The Spectator

Foxing the Government

Article excerpt

THERE'S something of the leprechaun about Liam Fox. Though I'm not quite sure what. He's not Irish, but his posh Glasgow accent is so musical that sometimes he might be. He's not noticeably small, but he does have what this magazine's editor called `cornflower blue' eyes and a tufty haircut of the kind one might expect atop a leprechaun head.

He's young, still only 39, though he entered Parliament in 1992. He started at Glasgow University aged `17 years and nine days, I think. I qualified (as a doctor] when I was still 21.' He was a partner in general practice in Beaconsfield by the age of 25, and fluked a safe Tory seat in the West Country before he was 30. When I put it to him that he had a speculative try at selection, it came off and he couldn't quite believe his luck, he says: `That's a very, very good summary of how it happened, actually. As someone said to me at the time, "You never know if the chance will come past you again. Grab it with both hands." And I have never looked back. And I was very, very lucky in the first term. I was in the whips' office in government, and I was actually in the Department of Health as a government whip, and in the Treasury and the DTI as a whip, and then I was a Foreign Office minister.'

Fox frequently makes the (actually rather unconvincing) point that being a doctor makes him a better shadow health minister. When I suggest that the notion of a 21year-old doctor is rather terrifying, he says, `It was pretty terrifying for me, I'll confess,' which is not quite what I meant. He adds that `I think it is necessary for the House of Commons to have a wider range of experience in it, and I do think that if you fill it with social workers, accountants and lawyers, you're much the poorer for it.' And which do you think would be the worst of those three for it to be filled with? `Well, that depends whether you're talking legislatively or morally. I don't think I could possibly put them in order.'

Now that I think of it, though, leprechauns are actually quite wrinkled. Perhaps I was just inferring a certain boyish charm from the rumours which so delighted us a couple of years ago that Dr Fox was amorously entangled with a pop singer called Natalie Imbruglia. But when that question was put to him later that day (by someone else; I didn't ask because my sources had suggested it was unlikely to be true), the boy Liam (as one cannot help but think of him) would say only that Ms Imbruglia's manager was a good friend of his. Shame. The tatty circus of politics could use some glamour.

The Member for Woodspring (suburban Bristol and Bath) was guarded from my terrier-like tendencies by his loping Central Office press hound, Bill Clare. Bill has been half-fingered of late for being the Downing Street mole, which is not really fair, because it isn't him. I mention it because I fear it may have been me who let the dogs out. With a certain insouciance, but more than half an eye to the dramatic effect, Bill remarked, as we were passing behind the Speaker's chair on the way to the good doctor's quasi-subterranean office, that this time last year he had been working in the Downing Street press office, having been enticed there from civil service anonymity by Alastair Campbell himself.

Later that day, when writing about the mole, it occurred to me to check on exactly when old Bill had upped sticks and decamped to Smith Square. On discovering that he left No. 10 last August, I knew he couldn't be the talpida in question. Unless Downing Street gave him special `return and steal documents now that you are working for the Tories' clearance nine months after leaving the civil service. Which is a tad unlikely, even in the wacky world of Whitehall. No, Bill is not the mole; though I suspect he looks a bit like him.

Getting back to that other cute-looking but mischievous creature, Liam the leprechaun is softly spoken and genial, but rather earnest. Being the shadow secretary of state for health, he is naturally keen to talk about his health policies. …

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