Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Who Leaked the Liam Fox Letter?

The Telegraph has splashed with a leaked "For Your Eyes Only" letter from Liam Fox to David Cameron. It is strongly worded and is proof, if it were needed, that the MoD are at loggerheads over the spending review. Without going into the whys and wherefores of the issue itself, it is deeply worrying that this letter has been leaked. A FYEO letter can only have been leaked by one of four different individuals unless there has been some sort of electronic skulduggery.

Either it was leaked by an MoD civil servant, a Number Ten official, an MoD special advisor or Liam Fox himself.

Ben Brogan thinks people should 'relax' as Cameron wants the debate over defence cuts to be in public anyway. He's not suggesting that Cameron would have wanted this letter to leak, but he thinks in order to get 'buy in' the public needs to be part of the debate.

I have just seen Liam Fox interviewed outside the MoD. When asked "will you resign?" he avoided the question and instead talked about how it's important that everyone played as a team. I found that non-denial deeply worrying.

I doubt whether the leaker of the letter will ever be identified. They rarely are. But whoever it was should examine their motives for doing it. Because it may have far reaching consequences, way beyond those intended.

UPDATE: Having thought about this a little further I just cannot conceive that it was a political person who leaked this. It just doesn't stack up.

40 comments:

Sir Norfolk Passmore said...

I believe the letter was leaked with the knowledge of Fox, and that he will be the next cabinet departure.

Fox can do one of two things at this point in his career. He can knuckle down to the job of delivering savings and reforming MoD procurement, or he can set himself up to go on a "point of principle" before squatting on the backbenches and hoping DC falls on his arse, giving him his only realistic route to the top. Sadly, he shows absolutely no stomach for the former, and is very much the sort of bloke to do the latter.

DespairingLiberal said...

This is so, so obviously a put-up job. It's just the usual corner-fighting by the MoD. Whenever the prospect of Defense cuts looms, the MoD arrange for a tactical leak which purports to show the imminent collapse of Britain, the end of the Navy, the loss of Singapore, the mass-suicide of the General Staff, etc.

Quite why you think this will have dire future consequences is beyond me - did any of the preceeding 240 pre-arranged MoD "leaks" have dire consequences? Methinks you doth protest too much.

The only real consequence of this is that it shows yet again how unwilling the MoD always are to engage in a properly thought out defence review. Time and again the UK has been wrong footed because MoD intransigence about restructuring has led to us having the wrong equipment and the wrong force at the wrong time when confronted with threats that many had predicted.

Underlying much of this MoD reluctance is the dead hand of procurement - the needs of industry, contracts and those lovely profits pocketed by the defence contractors will always come first. To say this is about "morale" makes insiders feel almost physically sick at the cynicism of it.

Sean Haffey said...

I don't defend leaks but I do think it's time we defended our Defence Forces. They have been the poor child of the budget in the last twenty years.

Matthew said...

Iain, you come across as incredibly naive in this post.

As they say in Yes Minister, the ship of state leaks from the top. These things leak because it's in someone's interests to get one over on someone else. So it's no good wringing one's hands about such leaks - they are a fact of life in government and always will be.

I think it is pretty obvious that Liam Fox is the one whose interests are best served by this letter, setting him up as Cameron's natural successor if the coalition comes unstuck. His protestations of innocence only confirm that he is the prime suspect for the leak.

Matthew said...

It is worth noting that the pithy writing style bears all the hallmarks of a letter written for the benefit of the newspapers rather than simply for the eyes of the Prime Minister. An old trick.

starfish said...

@DL

If there was to be a proper defence and security review I would agree

It is clear from leaks, comments by the select committee and my own limited knowledge that this review is simply a cost-cutting exercise

At the end of which the MOD will be left to sort out the wreckage of an incoherent cuts package and still be expected to deliver military capability in support of political whim

Which is in fact what happened last time

MOD intransigence is a cliche - what MOD tries to do is hold out for a proper process that actually ends up with a coherent set of properly funded military capabilities that support foreign policy (and industrial policy too)

Politicians seem to be completely incapable of delivering it

They regard defence as some sort of game - it is not. It is desperately serious business with people's lives at stake - and the security of the country, something that the chattering classes seem to take for granted from their ivory towers

As to the leaker, given the type of letter it would not take long to identify him - if anyone really wanted to

Tapestry said...

Fox is worried by Russian rearmament.
5000 planes, 1000 tanks plus a new submarine fleet are all under construction. Putin has shown himself quite ready to use his army to invade neighbouring states. He is quite right to state that now is not the right time to cut back.

Churchill in the 1930s. Fox now. Peace is less assured now than it was predepression. Russia's economy is in freefall, and Putin might well embark on risky foreign adventures to rebuild Russian influence.

With China sabre rattling as well as North Korea, worldwide peace is not going to be a cake walk.

Salmondnet said...

Tom Harris agrees with Sir Norfolk that Fox must be complicit, but it is hard to see why he would be. The time to leak the letter is surely when you know it has not had the desired effect.

Reforming MoD procurement is a fine objective. Successive governments have aimed to do this since the nineteen sixties without noticeable success, but even if it is possible it won't, by itself, achieve enough short and medium term savings to meet the demands of the Treasury. To do this there will have to be substantial cuts in the real capabilities of our forces.

Many people, including, it seems, the majority of the Coalition, think this is acceptable, if not actually desirable, even though those capabilities have been continually reduced over decades. That is a gamble with our national security, both internal and external. Fox doesn't think we should take it. Prudent citizens will agree.

Mirtha Tidville said...

Fox probably did leak it and well done to him. The Defence review cannot be undertaken in the 10 minutes that has been allocated, but then this is all about the `Osborne Axe`. Sure procurement needs sorting out but,is so entrenched its way beyond the wit of Politicians to whom `long term` is a fortnight. Instead the axe will fall on those returning from a war zone with their medal in one hand and the P45 in the other...

The MOD budget was decimated by 13 years of Broon who used it to fund party political projects to keep those bozos in power. At the very least its budget should be ring fenced and `Dave` reminded forcefully, as Liam Fox is trying, that if you dont defend these Islands and her interests everything else is at risk.

The real obscenity here though is we are having to endure this debate whilst the `Gin Palaces for Dictators fund `sorry Overseas Aid Budget IS ringfenced....

I think Red Ed may be closer to No 10 than many on here would like to admit...

voiceofourown said...

"Underlying much of this MoD reluctance is the dead hand of procurement - the needs of industry, contracts and those lovely profits pocketed by the defence contractors will always come first."

Absolutely on the money, Despairing Liberal.
Rags like The Sun will, of course, present it as a betrayal of 'Our Boys'. It really is sickening.

ChrisC said...

We should reduce our global ambitions to the level of Europe's two richest countries: Switzerland and Norway.

Sean Haffey said...

> Despairing Liberal and voice of ourown

The numbers don't support what you claim. If you look at the chart on my blog (my message just below DL's) you'll see that spending on Defence has dropped from 11.6% of Budget to about 6.6% in the last 20 years. 20 years ago we weren't at war; today, rightly or wrongly, we are.

20 years ago, the RAF had about 100,000 personnel: today it's about 40,000. You don't need to be a leader-writer for The Sun to be concerned, as there are plenty of our military personnel who have been killed or wounded due to lack of the right equipment.

Man in a Shed said...

There have been a series of leaks, which only have No10 in common. Staff left over from the old regime must be top of the list of suspects. Though I wonder how closely trusted the Lib Dem incomers should really be...

Cameron needs to fix this mole quickly.

Remember its only a week since the bonfire of the quangos leak ( most likely a political move to reduce the effectiveness of a leaders speech in Birmingham).

................................. said...

If I were the Defence Secretary, I'd be wanting to make it as difficult as possible for the Prime Minister to cut my budget.

What does that tell you?

Blue Eyes said...

Same person who leaked the quango cull list?

Ray said...

As suggested on another site, this could actually have bounced back from No 10, putting huge pressure on Fox, and maybe trying to force him out. I hope not, he is 1 of only a few true Conservatives left.

trevorsden said...

I think speculation about Fox 'departing' is a bit hysterical. He was pretty positive in his interview I think.

Lets not forget the terminology. Fox 's letter said 'draconian' cuts.

Since it is probably cheaper to buy in equipment rather than subsidise BAE I think it unlikely that the cuts will be 'draconian'.

Even if the carriers are cancelled there is likely to be replacement ships built and jobs and capability maintained.

Carriers will not protect the Falklands - unless they (it) are on station '24/7'. They can retake them but thats rather pointless. A nuclear submarine can protect the islands - which already have an airfield and jets on patrol.

What will really upset the forces is if they are merged into a Marine Corps type of structure - that would be draconian for the marshals generals and admirals.

PS Mr Passmore - Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies at the bottom of the garden.

PPs
5000 planes? Gosh - Just as well Russia is part of the G* and needs to sell us its oil and that we are part of NATO.
Otherwise how do we match that - oh and all of Chinas weapons.

We are NOT at war - we are at peace. We have about 9000 troops in Afghanistan. How many planes and tanks to the pathetically few Taliban have
I grow tired of the total bollocks spouted by some people.

steve said...

Does David Cameron or any politician of any political hue want input from the public? No it is condescending to suggest or even just hint otherwise,

The real issue today is how the Labour Party are flip-flopping over Iraq; doing what socialist always do rewrite history.

The carrier program will cost "us" about .3% GDP for one year. For the cost of the overseas development budget we could buy 3 carriers and the aircraft to equip them with money left over. Half of the overseas development fund spent at home each year would end child poverty.

Do "we" choose to have poor children and poorly funded armed forces? No it is self serving politicians in the Westminster Village. Of course it it the machinations of this minority of minorities that keep you Mr Dale so no wonder this non issue is of such great importance.

Jimmy said...

Is this a serious question?

Well if it wasn't Fox then it means the MoD is not secure. I look forward to the result of the police inquiry which he will no doubt institute forthwith.

Gareth said...

Tapestry said...

"Fox is worried by Russian rearmament.
5000 planes, 1000 tanks plus a new submarine fleet are all under construction."

I agree with the sentiment. In this respect Fox is merely acting as the mouth of the MoD. He is representing the views of the Department he is Minister for, ostensibly to give other MPs and Ministers an opportunity to do their job properly - to make sure the short cuts that have been taken in the past are not repeated. The MoD is all the worse for it even if the Top Brass have been content to play with fewer and fewer but more and more expensive, big, shiny toys. But I do not hold out much hope that the Defence Select Committee, Parliament or the media will make much thoughtful headway.

To put some hyperbole on it - The MoD is setting out their stall that they want the MPs to pull their heads out of their arses and decide what the MoD should be doing, where, why and with what, rather than treating it like a quango and throwing money at it. That requires a deep consideration of foreign policy and as it stands our foreign policy is Euro-integration. That needs to change otherwise British armed forces will lose what autonomy they still retain. The culture of accepting poor and costly equipment late because neither the MoD nor politicians can make their minds up in a timely fashion must change too.

Tapestry said...

Just checked the Fox article again from 2007. Russian rearmament is 1000 planes and helicopters, 5000 tanks and a new submarine fleet to be completed by 2015.

China is also engaged in a large increase in military spending.

I would worry about investing in aircraft carriers. Ships are so vulnerable to newer more sophisticated and faster torpedoes and missiles.

The biggest thing required is air tanker fleet, transport planes and helicopters to shift forces quickly and safely around the globe, not to mention faster more accurate missiles.

Goodwin said...

This is all a bit arse about face! Before we can have a spending review we need to have a policy review and decide precisely where we consider this increasingly sadly little country of ours should be placed in the world. We are currently paying above our weight to any number of international organizations in the belief that we can continue to punch above our weight. Perhaps it is time to have rather more meaningful objectives and look after our narrow national interests first. It hasn't done New Zealand any harm. Only once we have decided what we want to be can we have meaningful costings of how to achieve it.

Little Black Sambo said...

"... an MoD civil servant, a Number Ten official, an MoD special advisor or Liam Fox himself."

A lot more than four possible individuals there.

WillS said...

Leaks are bad but at least there's a kernal of truth in this one - this isn't a defence review, it's a spending review.

I have severe problems with how the MoD's budget is spent and I think both it and all three services need a radical shake up (although it appears the Army's got a pass on this one, despite the lamentable performance it's senior officers have steered it to both on the battlefield in Iraq and during its insanely wasteful FRES program).

Fox is in a bind. He's in charge of a department committed to so many equipment programs for capabilities we need, purchased from suppliers we could really live without, at prices that are just not competitive.

These aren't contractual commitments, they're political ones.

I doubt he has the political authority to use the defence budget for defence even if he had the wit. Like his predecessors he must use too much of it to prop up so-called strategic industries, especially those in marginal constituencies.

I'd be a lot more impressed with his letter if it simply said

"Dear Dave, we can afford to do the things we want to do only if we're allowed to buy the kit we need to do the job of defence, rather than prop up multinational manufacturing gestures or votes in marginal constituencies."

Alas, it doesn't.

Rush-is-Right said...

If I were a minister writing a Your Eyes Only letter to the PM I would write it myself on my own laptop and side-step the civil service entirely.

And then if it leaked I would would know that it was somebody at No 10.

HampsteadOwl said...

There are a limited number of classic tactics open to spending ministers who are losing the battle with the Treasury.

One is to appeal to the prime minister, another is to leak to the press. Fox has done one for sure, and quite possibly both.

Doesn't suggest it's going terribly well for him does it.

Sean Haffey said...

> trevorsden

"We are NOT at war - we are at peace. ... I grow tired of the total bollocks spouted by some people."

Are you going to tell that to the bereaved families of the 200+ servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan? And many others wounded or disabled for life?

Michael Heaver said...

If it was Fox, it'll come out by the Tory Conference for sure.

Not sure how annoyed he will be that it has leaked....the public will be on his side vs. Cameron.

trevorsden said...

Russian rearmament is about replacing its existing equipment - not adding to it.

There is nothing we can do about Russian rearmament - in so far as any of it eventually materialises. Russia is entitled to armed forces.

Various treaties are currently reducing the nuclear arsenal and the real threat from SS20s was faced down years go.

The Ukraine Poland and Germany stand between us and whats left of the Red Army. We contribute to NATO thats our main strategic commitment.

Our out of theatre forces can only achieve a limited effect Iraq and Afghanistan have proved that. The aid budget can probably fulfil Britain's strategic objectives far more efficiently than our army.

The projected carriers and their planes will cost at least 15 billion, then they need destroyer escorts of which we have too few to protect them - indeed the anti-aircraft missile needed has not even entered service yet.
I think the aid budget is about 9 billion so no way can it provide for 3 carrier groups.

Do you see France cutting its aid budget? It is significantly larger than ours (certainly in % of GDP). Correctly it uses it as a tool for commerce and diplomacy. Its pouring money not troops into Afghanistan.

We fought Napoleon with money not troops.

George said...

Who cares Iain.

It's all part of the pavanne of politics and giving the facade of negotiation and "democracy" when it comes to difficult subject matters.
We all now that Defence is an emotive area od budget.
To the tree hugging, sandal wearing, Guardian reading, marxists and commies,(We may as well include the treasonous, treacherous, two faced, fellow travellers OxBridge alumni in that last bit) it's wasted money better spent on scum and buying their votes.
For most other sensible and sane people its a definite requirement to ensure our security.

Defence spending is one area where we will see real differences of opinion between Conservatives and those that care for their country and the lefties, from Labour and the LimpDims who would rather spend the money elsewhere, curry favour and votes and hope that no-one stages a takeover, invasion or major terrorist incident or better still install sharia and have done with the problem.

We need the carriers and their air units, we need the army and the TA, we do need the luxury that has become the air force. The RAF played a bit part during the Falkland imbroglio, but without the RN and FAA they were no where. The Black Buck Vulcan strike took 20+ refuellings, for one plane and one bomb load which was ineffective in denying use of the airstrip at Stanley.
Again Navy and FAA in Sierra Leone supporting the army.
QED, RAF bears the brunt of cuts.
The Navy must protect our maritime trade and the army is currently deployed in Afghan and it would look to be in other places soon. Besides which only an army can hold ground and defeat an enemy.

WillS said...

trevorsden said:

"The projected carriers and their planes will cost at least 15 billion,"

Well, that depends on the planes. Industrial gravy train F35 or sensible existing F18/Rafale.

".. then they need destroyer escorts of which we have too few to protect them"

Actually we have enough. The escorts we have are both more numerous and more capable than the ones the French protect their carrier and amphib groups with. Although their doctrine calls for more self-protection measures on these types of vessels than the RN goes for.

"..indeed the anti-aircraft missile needed has not even entered service yet."

Yes it has.

"I think the aid budget is about 9 billion so no way can it provide for 3 carrier groups."

It wouldn't have to. It would have to provide for 2 carriers plus airgroups, the escorts (as mentioned earlier, are already bought and paid for.

"Do you see France cutting its aid budget?"

I don't pay attention, so no. But this is an interesting tangential point isn't it? How come our friends across the channel can spend the same as us and still afford to field a larger army, airforce and navy (though not necessarily more capable in the case of the navy)?

Sean Haffey said...

>George

So you are setting up your strategic defence strategy for the next decade or two on the basis of Sierra Leone and the Falklands? I do hope our enemies are kind enough to fight us in just these two territories again.

Let me put my own position clearly: Defence has already suffered cuts in the past twenty years. Look somewhere else.

>trevorsden

I could have sworn that against Napoleon we had battles at Trafalgar, Copenhagen, in Spain and Waterloo. Did we not send any troops or sailors to them?

Paddy Briggs said...

Defence:

(1) Decide strategy - who and what are we defending, against what threat(s) and with which allies.

(2) Cost it.

(3) Make budgetary provisions. You don't start with a cost cutting imperative - you start with a review of what is necessary and what Britain's realistic world role is.

If you do the above can't believe that we need Trident. Who are we going to target it at? Problem solved..

trevorsden said...

Dear George - dear dear deary me George ...

We do not need the carriers and their airgroups. We cannot even afford the air defence destroyers to protect them and currently they do not have catapults and so cannot fly off AEW planes.

Nor can we afford all the ships planes and helicopters to transport the soldiers which the carriers would support. Its also clear that we cannot properly equip and sustain the fighting troops which would be inserted by the carrier group.

Protect our maritime trade? Our trade; what about the rest of the world; what does Germany do? And from who? Who is threatening our maritime trade such that we need to build 2 carrier groups?

We certainly need a different navy to what we have now but spending 5 billion on 2 ships and 10 billion on a few planes and leaving nothing left for anything else seems a bit daft.

Manfarang said...

George
Leftist tree huggers indeed!
This was the work of that dastardly Colonel Blimp.

WCH said...

This leaking simply has to stop. It is a matter of national security that personal correspondence between one of the top members of the cabinet and his Prime Minister remains personal. I don't really care who leaked the thing, even if it was Liam Fox himself, but the fact is that one could put a stop to it by putting a high criminal price on this sort of activity.

Assuming for a moment that Mr. Fox and Mr. Cameron aren't involved here, how on earth can ministers continue to do their job if they constantly have to assume that anything they write in a personal capacity will be splashed across the press later that day.

There's nothing wrong with disagreement in government; indeed, if there weren't fierce battles being fought in a time of harsh cuts, you'd worry about the ministers' motivations. But the important issue here is not the content of the letter but the principle that such a letter can be leaked at all and with impunity for those involved.

Sometimes it is better for the public not to know until much later on.

Arf said...

The Russians are merely replacing obselete aircraft. Those 1000 are the replacements for a fleet of around 3000 at present.

Mirtha Tidville said...

The old comment by the then MP John Cartwright `Defence reduced to a sort of Mujahadeen in Penge High Street` comes to mind.Only that time it was applied to Kinnock and Liebour..Seems not much has changed between then and now

diogenes said...

Come on, it was Fox. there was the famous occasion when a Treasury Perm Sec ordered a leak enquiry but said he doubted it would be successful. Since he was the source.

I think Fox has been suckered by Whitehall.

Exit.

diogenes said...

come on, it was Fox. There was a famous occasion when a Treasury perm sec ordered a leak enquiry but said he doubted it would be successful. Because, of course, he was the source.