Q: When is a Fox not a fox?
A: When it's a sacrificial lamb.
The Fox in question - Liam of that ilk - is due to make a speech containing radical proposals exceeding in scope and intent anything the coalition government has so far contemplated. His true motives for this are unclear. He may just possibly be unaware of his potential status as patsy-in-waiting for the Tory Party's increasingly Machiavellian convolutions, as it attempts to portray itself as a party of government beyond the next election. Then again, perhaps the cunning Fox genuinely feels that he really can rally the Conservative right wing with a view to becoming the anointed leader if and when David Cameron falls on his sword, or is stabbed in the back by the Men in Grey Suits, depending on how the last scene of the coalition melodrama plays out.
Whatever the case, the scenario of an increasingly unpopular government showing determination to plough its chosen furrow - despite a radical call-to-arms from the loony fringes - is hardly new. Labour gave us a glimpse of a few left-wing skeletons in their briefly-opened closet of horrors in the early eighties, and some feel that this paved the way for that party's subsequent re-branding of itself as New Labour and the eventual Blair-Brown axis. Liam Fox might of course be entirely serious about making an early move to be seen as prospective leader material - if the reaction of the Tories, post coalition break-up, were to be a lurch to the Right. But it's also tiresomely probable that he's simply providing the necessary scare story, which can then be shot down by the incumbent PM, so that Cameron's rigid position on his chosen course of austerity might be seen as more palatable relative to What Might Have Been.
Fox has in fact found it necessary to push back the boundaries of what is really credible, in his attempts to find depths of draconian savagery which even the Tory party might not plumb. Against a background of the demonisation of a whole sector of society - encompassing the poor, low-paid workers and the disabled - with swingeing cuts to the disposable income of all these people justified by portraying them as society-sapping freeloaders, it's not easy to contemplate even more vindictive measures. Add to that the fact that tax changes in April will see a group of previously impoverished millionaires benefiting from tax reductions of £100,000 a year, and one can easily understand how difficult it is these days to appear truly loony in the context of all things Conservative. But Liam, bless him, appears to have managed it.
In point of fact, Mr Fox's speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs on Monday is likely to break new ground right in the heart of right wing Tory dreamland "Rob the Poor to Feed the Rich" territory. Voicing what other extreme Conservatives hardly dare think - save only in their most secret and grandiose fantasies - Fox is tipped to call for a five year freeze on public spending, with no protective ring-fencing for schools, foreign aid or the NHS. That's the poor robbed, but on an even more lavish scale than the government are currently managing. And Fox will, according to the Times, additionally propose that there should be a thorough rethink of earnings and savings taxation, including a Capital Gains Tax holiday "to breathe life into the ailing economy". The Times also reports that the former defence secretary will say:
"I believe that in leaving money in people's pockets, economic activity will follow. People will buy houses, invest for their future or just go shopping.
"Whichever is the case, it's creating a society that is sustainable for the future in the way that our current - welfare-dependent and debt-ridden - economy is not.
"We should gradually move towards the reduction - or even abolition - of the taxes where the state not only taxes the same money on multiple occasions but discourages the very behaviour that would lead to a more responsible society."
So that's the rich fed, and there is likely to be much salivating in the Tory Shires at the prospect - however unlikely it is to actually materialise - of such a juicy package. It is of course a fact that, in order to leave money in people's pockets, that money has to be there in the first place. But the poor are incidental to this speech, whether it's a serious attempt to influence policy, or just a scare tactic to deflect criticism of the current programme. The poor are unlikely to vote Tory (although it's increasingly probable they might vote Ukip), and they are perceived, as a body, to be more of an unwanted expense than any potential source of economic growth. It is the already rich to whom Liam Fox is seeking to appeal; those on the right of the parliamentary party and of the Conservative movement nationally. It is there that he will find his natural support if any ambitions of leadership are ever to come to fruition.
Whatever the thinking behind Fox's forthcoming speech, he is not the only possible hyena circling the beleaguered prime minister. MP Sarah Wollaston has warned him, in a series of tweets, about the need to tackle problems with his inner circle of immediate colleagues, consisting as it does of the "posh, male & white". Wollaston is a Cameron acolyte, but her words will be encouraging to home secretary Theresa May, who has recently broken cover with her own finely-drafted proposals covering a number of governmental departments, and - again - tailored to appeal to the Tory right.
Most worrying of all perhaps, is a vote of confidence from Baroness Warsi, who stated that Cameron has the support of "large parts" of his party, and that "he is doing a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances". Such a very qualified endorsement is likely to be cold comfort to the prime minister as he studies the minute details of the Liam Fox speech, and Cameron may well reflect on the experience of football managers since time immemorial; that the vote of confidence is frequently a precursor to a frogmarch up the scaffold steps and the ceremonial fall of the axe. Unless, of course, friend Liam does the merciful thing, and slides the knife into his ribs before any organised coup.
Et tu, Foxy.