By Paul Goodman
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What's in a paper's online comment section in the morning sometimes lags behind its newsprint equivalent. I add this cautionary note because I can only find two editorials in the centre-right press online this morning about the Liam Fox affair – and neither call for him to go. But this is about as far as the good news goes for the Defence Secretary.
The Daily Mail says that "Whether [he] stays or goes, this much is clear: the revelations about his association with his best man raise questions over his judgement from which his reputation will never recover." The Sun's view is that "Dr Fox has done well running defence. He would be a loss. But like a limping battleship he is holed beneath the waterline."
The other two members of Downing Street's other "quad" – its nickname for the Mail, Sun, Daily Telegraph and Daily Express – are editorially silent, at least online. However, the Defence Secretary provides the Times and Telegraph with their splash, and also makes the Guardian front page, unsurprisingly.
The Times claims that accounts of Adam Werritty's companies "show that he has earned little more than £20,000 from them in the past four years", which raises the question of how he makes a living. The Telegraph also raises this point, although both it and the Guardian make no new claims, concentrating instead on the details that Fox provided yesterday in his Commons statement.
My view in the Guardian is that –
"Downing St is asking two key questions: has Adam Werritty made any money out of defence since May 2010 and if so, did the defence secretary know about it? If the answer to the first question turns out to be yes, Fox's troubles are not yet over. His critics will proclaim him a knave if he knew and a fool if he didn't."
Whether Fox goes or stays, I write, will –
"…come down to cash, and if his friend hasn't profited then the mistakes Fox has apologised for don't merit resignation. The son of the Thatcher era is striving to prepare the armed forces for the future, and knock into shape a department that's not fit for purpose. I hope he's allowed to get on with it. The next few weeks will determine if he will be."
Whatever one's view and whatever happens next, one thing is certain: the Defence Secretary's fate won't be determined by the enquiry he set up. With others, the Financial Times reports that it has been taken out of the Ministry of Defence and put in the hands of Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary. David Cameron apparently wants answers in “days rather than weeks”.