If Fox’s positions on Britain’s relations with America and Israel and his views on climate change, Europe, and other issues caused friction within the Conservative Party, it’s nothing to the opprobrium they earned him among the wider British political and media establishments. Fox’s politics are not only anathema to most Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians, as well as to centrist Tories; they’re also unfashionable among much of the media, and in some cases even to nominally right-leaning newspapers.
There’s a distinct strain of anti-American snobbery running through these cliques that transcends political differences. There’s also a nasty streak of anti-Semitism — often masquerading as legitimate opposition to the policies of Israel — rooted in a long-standing disdain for Jews among the sections of the British upper classes. This is kept fashionable by the “camel corps” of Arabists in the Foreign Office, left-wing academics, and those who feel that the West’s problems with Islamist terrorism would be solved overnight if that troublesome little state of Israel would just do the decent thing and disappear. Cameron himself has not been averse to a spot of Israel baiting. (PJM’s Soeren Kern has written an excellent primer on British anti-Semitism.)
The latest twist on the Fox affair is that Werritty had links with Mossad and plotted with Iranian opposition groups to topple Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Assuming the story is true (notwithstanding the fact that leaving a trail which leads back to the British defense secretary isn’t a very good idea), you’d think that getting rid of Ahmadinejad would be a laudable goal. But the Mossad connection is sufficient to create the impression of sinister goings-on.
The fiercest attacks on Fox’s politics have of course come from the Left, which in its permanently overexcited state is portraying the transatlantic connections forged by Fox and Werritty through Atlantic Bridge as evidence of a neocon plot to take over the world, with Fox as some kind of Dr. Stangelove figure. The front-page headline on the dead tree edition of Sunday’s Observer, the left-wing Guardian’s Sunday sister paper: “Revealed: hidden Tory links to U.S. radical right.” Inside, a two-page spread, complete with a diagram connecting the various “conspirators” is headlined: ‘The Bridge that linked top Tories with Tea Party activists” (the story, without the diagram, is here).
The report names several U.S. politicians linked with Atlantic Bridge, and while it’s no surprise to see Jim DeMint’s name on the list, American conservatives will be amused to see Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman described as members of the “radical right.” “Hidden Tory links” is also a bit of a stretch, given that the involvement of Conservative ministers with Atlantic Bridge was openly publicized on its website and elsewhere. But with the list of individuals from whom Werritty solicited donations — lobbyists for the U.S. and Israel, hedge fund bosses, climate change skeptics — reading like a parade of right-wing villains from central casting, you can’t blame the Left for getting carried away. They even include honorable mentions for the Koch brothers and the “military-industrial complex.”
Fox’s replacement at the MoD is Philip Hammond, who promises to be rather less problematic for Cameron, and more agreeable to both MoD mandarins and to liberal sensibilities. Like Cameron, he’s not overly concerned with ideology: he’ll cut where he’s told to cut and he won’t exceed his brief. The change in unlikely to affect operational relations between British and U.S. forces, but it’s a fair bet that there won’t be any more steak dinners with top American generals.
Fox’s role on the right of British politics will be harder to fill. He clearly made serious mistakes, but the truth is that he’s paying the price for his political convictions. It’s hard to believe the same fuss would have been made had he been a more moderate Tory, and had those from whom Werritty took money been seeking to increase awareness of global warming and pushing for closer ties with Belgium. Fox’s departure is a victory for the vested interests in the government bureaucracy, for Conservative politicians who lack the confidence to champion conservative policies, and for a liberal-left establishment that seeks to run Britain against the wishes of the majority of its people.