By Paul Goodman
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It is exceptionally rare for a Minister to be nailed by his Shadow in the Commons – a grand example being Neil Kinnock's failure to skewer Margaret Thatcher over Westland – and today wasn't one of those days. Jim Murphy was burdened by his own business-funded trips to America, Liam Fox liberated, somehow, by having offered an apology (saying you're sorry always goes down well in the Commons).
For me, what's decisive is neither the niceties of the Ministerial Code nor the number of Fox's meetings with Adam Werrity. What matters is money, and if Werrity didn't enrich himself as a result of his dealings with the Defence Secretary then the latter's apology should suffice. Fox is striving to make a department that isn't fit for purpose now fit for the future, and I hope that he's now able to get on with it.
The Conservative benches rallied to the Defence Secretary this afternoon. There's nothing remarkable in that: Government MPs usually gather, suitably primed by the whips, to back a troubled Minister. But Cabinet colleagues are often absent. Not so today: Eric Pickles and Michael Gove turned out in a signal of support. As did George Osborne. And one way or another, whether on the order paper or not, his team were there too.
Greg Hands, Matthew Hancock, Claire Perry – all were on their feet this afternoon: the former was also on the airwaves this morning. The Chancellor has reason to encourage his supporters to be active. He and the Defence Secretary are both foreign affairs hawks, the latter helped out during Yachtgate, and Osborne has an eye on a possible future leadership election. But he wouldn't have chanced his arm if Fox was certain to lose his head.