PRITI VACANT

Yes, it’s inevitable, but it’s also irresistible; and I’m going to say it. To lose one member of the Cabinet may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two seems like carelessness. Okay, I’ve said it, but Theresa May has lost it. Granted, she never really had it; her premiership has been a slow suicide from the off. But to have an already shaky administration disrupted twice in seven days raises yet more questions of leadership – or lack of. Boris putting his foot in it again is par for the course, but it didn’t matter as much when he was a chat-show backbencher or even Mayor of London; when you hold one of the four great offices of state, however, getting by on buffoonish charm isn’t enough – especially when the liberty of a British subject imprisoned in Iran could be threatened further by the Foreign Secretary’s clumsily cavalier attitude towards his job.

Boris is safe for the moment, though; in a Cabinet infected by subversive Remainers eager to throw a spanner in the Brexit works, a cheerleading Brexiteer like Boris is vital to uphold Theresa May’s pre-Election promise of a Hard Brexit. There’s also the old Lincoln maxim about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, of course. It’s no coincidence the PM brought Michael Gove back into the fold; the prospect of Boris also exiled to the backbenches, given free rein to make mischief and plot her downfall from afar, is the kind of additional anxiety she could do without. Better to have those with an eye on her job in the same room, where she can see them – a bit like when teachers move the most troublesome pupils to the desks at the front of the classroom.

Gideon quitting as an MP to become full-time editor of the Evening Osborne undoubtedly helped the Prime Minister in the Commons, though his anti-May agenda being broadcast to Londoners on a daily basis must irk her. The forced resignation of her International Development Secretary, however, is a more pressing headache she could have done without. Patel’s error in meeting senior Israeli politicians in an unofficial capacity, and without Foreign Office clearance, may seem a minor infringement of diplomatic protocol, but whether or not her error was mere naivety or simple stupidity, the resulting furore left her position untenable.

The PM’s problem is losing a Bright Young Thing who contradicts the electorate’s image of privileged, privately-educated conveyor-belt Conservatives; and the last thing a Government bereft of a majority needs is to keep shedding members that make it look as if it couldn’t run the proverbial brewery piss-up.

Priti Patel was one of the Prime Minister’s predecessor’s pet projects to upgrade the public perception of the Conservative Party – young, photogenic and Asian. When David Cameron made a point of announcing he once met ‘a black man’ during the TV leaders’ debates during the 2010 General Election, it complemented his promotion of the unelected Baroness Warsi to his inner circle as Minister for Tokenism…sorry, Minister for Faith and Communities; the emergence of a figure such as Priti Patel, actually voted for by the electorate of Witham (in Essex), was a further feather in the Tory diversity cap. But a week on from the loss of Sex God Michael Fallon for the gross moral turpitude of touching the knee of an Express scribe fifteen years ago, the loss of a fairly inconsequential Parliamentarian is nevertheless another body blow to a PM who is widely regarded as being about as effective as a weak supply teacher incapable of controlling an unruly class.

Brexiteers without Portfolio such as Jacob Rees-Mogg have hinted that Priti Patel’s forced resignation was engineered by Cabinet Remainers, whereas Labour’s porky deputy Tom Watson has suggested the Foreign Office was aware of Patel’s presence in Israel whilst publicly claiming it had no idea what the International Development Secretary was up to on her ‘holiday’. Whatever the truth of Patel’s odd activities, the fact remains she’s lost her job in the May administration and the PM now has to undergo one more reshuffle that has been thrust upon her; but it seems resignations – voluntary or otherwise – are the only way Theresa May can be prompted into rearranging her Cabinet furniture.

Patel’s exit comes just hours before Brexit negotiations reach their sixth round; to use an FA Cup analogy, that means we’re only two games away from Wembley – or it did before football’s governing body decided the national stadium could be devalued further by hosting the competition’s semi-final matches as well. The Times today reported that the EU is preparing for ‘the fall of Theresa May before the New Year’ as a result of the past seven days, which will trigger ‘a change of leadership or elections leading to a Labour victory’. This was rebuffed by IDS on ‘Today’ this morning, though his belief that the PM is ‘the one person who can actually still unite the Cabinet, the country and the party’ says all you need to know about a man who blames the decline and fall of Western Civilisation on unmarried men.

For the moment, Theresa May will cling on – and on, and on; but it’s hard to come away from the latest car-crash without concluding this is a Government treading water, feeling more like the Major administration of the mid-90s or the Brown one of the late noughties than a party that technically won a General Election just five months ago. As has been pointed out before, however, the most accurate comparison one can make is with Jim Callaghan’s Government of 1976-79, particularly during the testing time following the collapse of the 1977/78 Lib-Lab Pact. What happens next is anyone’s guess; but I can guarantee it won’t be Priti.

© The Editor

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THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE

If Jacob Rees Mogg is a 60-year-old eighteenth century gentleman trapped in the body of a 48-year-old twenty-first century politician, Gavin Williamson is…well…what? Doubtless few of us had heard of the MP who was the Tory Chief Whip until today, though we may have picked up stories of the anonymous Westminster resident who keeps a pet tarantula in his Commons office to manufacture a Bond Villain image worthy of former Machiavellian veterans like Peter Mandelson; yes, that’s him. I saw a photo of this prat earlier; he’s only 41, but he has the gait of a much older man despite possessing the same oddly unnerving boyish countenance that made Michael J Fox cute in his 20s and a bit creepy-looking once he reached his 40s.

Williamson is now Defence Secretary, a speedy promotion for someone with no previous Ministerial experience, and one that has apparently left a few more seasoned Cabinet colleagues a tad miffed at being passed over following Michael Fallon’s resignation. Let’s face it, though; it’s not as if Theresa May had an outstanding talent pool from which to select a successor – and she owed Williamson a favour, what with him having organised her campaign to replace David Cameron last year (is it only last year?) and playing a key part in buying DUP favours in the aftermath of the General Election. One of Williamson’s motivations in offering his services as May’s campaign manager during the leadership race following the EU Referendum result was an avowed intent to prevent Boris grabbing the keys to No.10; Williamson’s sudden promotion is therefore bound to make a few Ministers more than a little uncomfortable. He could well have an eye on the top job himself.

The office of Chief Whip is especially important to the governing party at times such as these, and though it’s not traditionally regarded as a stepping-stone to greater things, we shouldn’t forget Ted Heath held the post under both Eden and Macmillan. And whereas Cabinet reshuffles are straightforward enough in normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances; the PM’s position has been perilous ever since June 9 and her authority has been so undermined by running a minority administration (let alone persistent leaks to the media by those with an eye on her job) that it’s taken a high-profile resignation to force her hand. Had she been able to command any sort of authority, Boris wouldn’t still be Foreign Secretary, for one thing.

Gavin Williamson appears to have opted for a tarantula over a sports-car as a means of solving his midlife crisis, though this cultivation of the unusual as a presumed attempt to make himself moderately interesting contrasts with his predecessor’s determined and – until this week – successful efforts at portraying himself as terminally dull. If there are no more ‘revelations’ to emerge from Michael Fallon’s closet, I find it hard to believe his sole reason for resigning was a drunken fumble over a decade ago, particularly when the recipient of his wandering hands herself regards that reason as ridiculous. Williamson’s predecessor clearly regarded his behaviour fifteen years ago as unsuitable for holding a leading Ministerial job in 2017, yet perfectly suitable for remaining a Tory MP; maybe as long as his constituents don’t mind the fact he once touched Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee, he no longer has to consider the outrage of the rest of the electorate.

Although his name will forever be linked with a sex scandal, it’s worth remembering John Profumo resigned as Minister for War (the more honest title that preceded Secretary of State for Defence) because he lied to the Commons over his affair with Christine Keeler; that was regarded as far more unforgivable amongst his peers than the actual affair with a prostitute dividing her favours between Profumo and a Russian spy. Ten years after Profumo’s resignation, another Tory MP, Antony ‘Lord’ Lambton quit as a Junior Minister following an exposé by the News of the World that he also paid for the company of ladies (photos were forthcoming).

Exactly ten years after that, the revelation that Margaret Thatcher’s Trade and Industry Secretary Cecil Parkinson had impregnated his secretary Sarah Keays provoked another resignation, though Parkinson’s apparent disregard for his illegitimate daughter – who has learning disabilities – in the years thereafter should cast a far more malignant shadow across his questionable character than the affair that led to her conception. As for John Major’s motley Ministers – where to start? Another post, perhaps.

When placed next to these scandals, Michael Fallon’s activities seem very lightweight indeed, even if they uphold the belief that any scandal leading to a resignation when the Tories are in power is sex-related whereas with Labour it’s always money-related (John Prescott’s loose zip not withstanding). Maybe it’s an indication of how seriously the morose (ex) Minister takes himself that he views what he did as being on a par with Profumo, Parkinson and Lambton; then again, it could just be a depressing reflection of how times have changed and how even the most innocuous of ‘sexual assaults’ can inspire such vociferous online ‘off with his head’ hysteria that the accused has no option but to walk the plank.

© The Editor

HANDS, KNEES AND BOOMPS-A-DAISY

Unfortunately, it’s one of the recurring stories of our times and one that it becomes increasingly difficult to say something new about whenever it rears its ugly head; once again, the headlines keep us in a state of permanent déjà-vu and the seriousness of the crime is almost diminished through terrible repetition. Sadly, we’re back where we’ve been so many times before, but there’s no way it can be avoided; the grim truth demands our attention. Yes, Damian Green allegedly touched a woman’s knee.

In other news, New York experienced a major terror incident when a Jihadist drove a van onto the sidewalk and ploughed down pedestrians and cyclists alike, killing eight of them before being apprehended. Miraculously, he wasn’t shot dead by cops and survives to face the music, though the biggest concern for some is inevitably not the bodies cluttering up Manhattan’s pavements but an anticipated upsurge in ‘Islamophobia’. Anyway, enough of that trivial little domestic business across the pond. Onto more serious matters.

The journalist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer claimed Defence Secretary Michael Fallon once touched her knee and she made it clear in no uncertain terms what she would do to him if his hand came into contact with said body part again. Fallon withdrew. Fallon is someone who previously edged Philip Hammond in the contest to decide the dullest member of the Cabinet, yet this moment of indiscretion has suddenly and remarkably made the grey man moderately interesting. I doubt few of us would have been surprised had Boris stood accused of such a dastardly deed, but Michael Fallon? Lock up your daughters, especially if they happen to be young party activists; just ask Labour.

It’s interesting that a professional political class which has unquestionably supported DPP Alison Saunders’ cynical crusade to up the rape conviction statistics by broadening the legal definition of sexual assault is now being confronted by the ramifications of this support. The Saunders approach is all fine and dandy if some pleb has the finger of suspicion aimed at him, but the problem with legal definitions is that they’re supposed to be egalitarian and don’t distinguish between class, wealth and social standing. Granted, the ruthless cuts to legal aid have severely limited Joe Public’s ability to defend himself when confronted by an allegation of a sexual nature, but those whose incomes can feather the most exclusive law firm nests probably never imagined they’d be placed in a situation where they’d have to deal with the grim reality of everything they failed to challenge the wisdom of.

William Hague urged caution on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ this morning when it comes to believing the authenticity of every allegation aimed at a public figure, though I don’t remember similar caution being advised by Westminster when the Yewtree witch-hunt was rounding up showbiz stalwarts from the 70s and 80s; back then, the ‘I believe her’ mantra was being recited from every political platform. Operation Midland attracted more criticism in that its targets weren’t quite as irrelevant as Yewtree’s hapless has-beens, though despite a grovelling after-the-event apology from Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe as the outgoing Met Chief sought to cover his back, the damage done to the likes of Harvey Proctor remains a shameful example of what can happen when the powers-that-be allow our police force to be politicised by an inherently merciless and perennially unsatisfied agenda.

The sudden downfall of a liberal left Hollywood darling like Kevin Spacey shows how when the ‘I believe her’ (or in Spacey’s case, ‘him’) rule is applied to everyone rather than a select few, it’s actually not very nice at all. Holding up a placard or wearing a T-shirt bearing a nifty hash-tag slogan is easy when you imagine you’re above the net being cast; when that net is widened and you risk being entangled in it, the experience of thousands of nonentities denied your privileges is brought into extremely sharp focus as the irresponsible gamble of not questioning the placing of a clumsy pass on a level playing field with a brutal rape is writ horrifyingly large. The system that has promoted and repeatedly failed to challenge this fallacy can eject its favoured sons without a second thought if it means the whole system risks being tarnished with the same unsavoury accusations. There must be a lot of leading men in Tinsel Town consulting their lawyers at the moment.

When OJ Simpson was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife way back in 1994/95, the defence shrewdly played the race card, garnering wide African-American support in the process as focus shifted away from the actual crime itself and onto the broader subject of US race relations; their client was rewarded by walking away from court a free man, hailed as the victim of the trial as opposed to the cause of it. One cannot but wonder if Bill Cosby had been accused of murder rather than rape that the voices noticeably silenced in their support for one of the entertainment industry’s great black pioneers might have been heard in a way they weren’t as, one-by-one, women came forward to accuse him whilst the system that had celebrated him for decades denounced him.

The ruling elite have sat back and allowed this state of affairs to develop unchecked for a long time because they imagined they were immune to it. In their desperate search for votes and eagerness to be seen endorsing various pseudo-‘liberal’ causes, they have gleefully given the thumbs-up to dubious moral movements without reading the small print; and now they are finally paying the price for their stupidity. Well, more fool them. I should imagine many little men rotting away in a prison cell on the strength of an allegation propelled towards a guilty verdict via a climate fully endorsed by the political class will be short on sympathy; and who could blame them?

© The Editor