Liam Fox: Darling of Tory right forced out over scandal

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Liam Fox, who quit as defence minister on Friday, is a smooth-talking champion of the Conservative right whose background and views often put him at odds with other members of the government.

A disciple of hardline Tory legend Margaret Thatcher, the 50-year-old former medical doctor was forced out over his friendship with Adam Werritty, who accompanied him on numerous overseas trips despite having no official role.

As a Scot who grew up in social housing, Fox had put up a fight to stay, using the debating skills learned at Glasgow University to defend himself with the same confidence that saw him flourish over his 19 years in Westminster.

But his unorthodox mode of working, bypassing the strict protocol concerning ministerial aides, sparked a row that refused to die.

An inquiry into his behaviour was due next week, but he jumped before he was pushed.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very sorry" to see him go, even though Fox was never a natural ally, both in background and outlook, and fought him for the leadership of the Conservative party in 2005.

Fox grew up in social housing in East Kilbride, a town outside Glasgow, and attended the local school, whereas many of his cabinet colleagues -- including Cameron -- went to elite private schools.

He is a proponent of traditional Conservative values, which had put him at odds with Cameron's more socially liberal, "compassionate Conservatism".

These include a strong belief in Britain's "special relationship" with the United States as espoused by Fox's hero, former prime minister Thatcher, who attended his 50th birthday party last month.

Fox's determination to look to the United States rather than the European Union put him at odds with other members of Cameron's government, and reports suggested he relied on friends such as Werritty to help promote his cause.

Werritty worked for a charity Fox set up to promote US-UK ties, Atlantic Bridge, which was closed down after charity regulators deemed it too political, as well as reportedly linking him up with other like-minded associates.

Newspaper reports on Friday suggested Werritty's frequent trips with Fox were paid by financial backers linked to Israel and a private security firm.

Fox is famously sociable -- his parties are legendary -- and has always boasted a wide circle of friends, from Australian pop star Natalie Imbruglia to assassinated former Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

But he has also faced continued rumours about his private life, which he challenged on the occasion of his 2005 wedding to fellow doctor Jesme.

"I know that some people use smears and I have heard them for years. They'd say, 'Why are you not married? You must be a playboy or a wild man or gay,' or whatever," he said.

"Well, I'm getting married in December and I'm perfectly happy with my private life."

Fox was first elected to parliament in 1992 and rose quickly, taking a job as a junior Foreign Office minister under prime minister John Major before representing his party on health and then defence while in opposition.

He was appointed defence secretary after the May 2010 election, when Cameron formed a Conservative-led government with the centre-left Liberal Democrats.

Fox and Cameron have clashed in government, with Fox warning in a leaked letter last year that plans to slash the defence budget to help reduce the deficit risked seriously damaging morale in the armed forces.

But he has also pushed through the cuts, confronting military chiefs over what he has described as years of overspending and mismanagement, and played a key role in Britain's involvement in the NATO operation in Libya.

© 2011 AFP

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