Dr Liam Fox – if you were his boss? And will we see him in court?

Let's cut to the chase. I've always rather liked the guy but I've just watched the BBC 10 o'clock news.

If Dr Liam Fox, the UK's Defence Minster, really asked defence suppliers to support his friend's business financially, then I think he is in big trouble. Never mind resignation, if it's true, wouldn't that be considered corruption - leading to potential prosecution?

OK, back to role play.  You’re the CPO, Procurement Director of a large multi-national, MegaCorp. You get some disturbing information and you call your direct report, Peter, senior head of global sourcing, into your office.

“Peter, sit down. Look you’ve done a great job for us over the last two years, but you know why I’ve asked you in for a chat”.

“It’s about my friend Tom isn’t it?”

“Yes. We’ve heard you’ve been taking him to meetings with suppliers all round the world.

“Yeah. Sorry about that. “

“And adding on leave to your trips so you can spend time with him..”

“Well frankly, that’s none of your business.. if I want to lounge around the pool with Tom for a day or two after a tough trip I don’t see how that matters”.

“No, you’re right, fair enough. But what was he doing at these meetings”

“Well he has his own consulting business. And going to these meetings, well, it helps him in his business. Contacts, you know”.

“And that’s nothing to do with MegaCorp work then”?

“Well.. no, not exactly”.

“And I understand our suppliers often thought that he worked for us as well –you didn’t tell them anything different, and he even had a MegaCorp business card?”

“I did tell him to lose the cards...”

“And his business may even have had objectives somewhat different to ours? He was at times promoting quite different ideas”?

“Well.. he’s a good chap, in fact I don’t always agree with our strategy either”.

“Really!”

(PA enters room with message).

“OK, now one of our suppliers says that you asked him directly to give Tom’s firm business.  So let’s sum up – you’ve taken a friend who posed as a MegaCorp employee while having a totally different agenda into meetings with our most strategic suppliers, you’ve supported him building his business both through helping him get close to our suppliers and even to the extent that you’ve pressurised suppliers into giving him money. And you don’t appear to agree with some of our own policies”?

And we know what comes next.

So, Liam Fox simply had to go, and it seemed to me that this was a case where people in business I talked to this week spotted that before most other politicians and media types did. And I predict that this isn’t the end of it - I think things may still get worse for him. You can’t have a Minister pursuing what seems to be both his own foreign / defence policy goals (he seemed to be acting almost as his own Shadow Minster..) and promoting a mate’s business. And if he asked them directly for funding....

I’d also question how the MOD Permanent Secretary allowed things to get to this point – a real black mark for her I’m afraid. She should have warned Fox long ago that this behaviour wasn’t acceptable and would get him into trouble.  Just think – what would Sir Humphrey have done?

Finally, we’ll look next week at what this might mean for defence procurement – not an unimportant issue in its own right...

Voices (5)

  1. John Latchford:

    I read some comments from party members after the Conservative Party conference complaining how the number of people from various lobbies had grown too large and ruined the conference – not just companies but including many charities and quangos… Seems they do not have consistent policy here?

  2. Final Furlong:

    I wonder why Dr Fox didn’t take the rather subtle hint, when the Prime Minister told most of the world that lobbying would be the next big political scandal in, erm, February 2010. The PM was ahead of his time, clearly.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/election-2010/7189466/David-Cameron-warns-lobbying-is-next-political-scandal.html

  3. huhh?:

    Politics in the UK is inexorably heading for the US style – with politicians elected by the people, but run by the lobbying £millions poured into “supporting” MPs by UK plc. And ministers happy to go along with it for that lucrative sinecure post government.

    We should take measures now – we have EU rules on procurement and what fair and open means in the process; why not rules for MPs, MEPs etc.?

    Oh wait, I forgot that EU MEPs are among some of the greediest takers of corporate Euros (and expenses!).

    But if we don’t make some kind of stand we’ll end up like the US with government by large corporates. And those of us who’ve worked in large corporates know how absolutely bonkers senior management can be! It almost makes me want the politician to be in charge!

  4. David Orr:

    Brilliant expose and a great clip of Yes Minister to back it up.

    My prediction: Like MPs expenses, there will be one rule for all of us regarding sacking and possible criminal charges and a completely different one for Ministers and MPs.

    The columnist Mathew Paris posed the question as to why people like this are attracted into Politics…answers on a postcard please!

    No wonder people are cynical about politics…..country mired in debt, recession & stagnation after the market failure in banking & regulation and here we are apologising “for the impression of wrongdoing”.

  5. Tom:

    Loved the video. Very funny. Just what I needed in the middle of the night and unable to sleep! Have a great weekend, Tom

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