By Paul Goodman
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Most papers this morning report the consensus account of Liam Fox's depature: he leapt. In other words, he concluded that his position was impossible yesterday and phoned Cameron yesterday lunchtime to resign. The Financial Times hints at a different narrative: the former Defence Secretary was pushed. According to this account, the Prime Minister had decided by Wednesday evening that Fox had to go. It holds that he had concluded by then that the report of the Cabinet Secretary, Gus O'Donnell, into the Werritty saga would be damming, and was concerned that with more claims due to emerge in today's papers a joint appearance with the Defence Secretary at a "high profile military event" this weekend would turn into a media circus.
Such an event could certainly have had a decisive effect on the way his handling of the saga was perceived (and Downing Street cares very much about perception). But the Daily Mail identifies a more decisive one – a meeting arranged by Lord Bell between Michael Hintze, a backer both of the Party and Pargav, and the Times. Details of Pargav's funding and Werrity's spending were published by the paper in its wake. They certainly tipped the balance between Fox perhaps surviving the weekend or leaving office yesterday. The Financial Times thus suggests that the Defence Secretary's fate was decided neither by his throwing in the towel nor by Cameron worries about this weekend, but by donors worrying about their privacy and reputation.
It is still not clear what all those who contributed to Pargav were hoping to get out of it, and the Times today contains the interesting detail that "large, anonymous cash donations [were] handed over at bank branches in Westminster. In November 2010, a month after Pargav Ltd had been set up, somebody walked into Lloyds TSB in Butler Place, close to Scotland Yard, and deposited £2,700 in cash. Further cash deposits followed regularly every two to three months, amounting to almost £13,000". The Financial Times doesn't pursue questions about whether anyone in Government was tipped off about the Times meeting, or whether counsel was sought about whether it was advisable. But others will doubtless do so this weekend.