For an MP to find that their cleaner did not have permission to remain in the UK would be mildly embarrassing. For a Government minister to make the discovery would be to endure a period of turbulence from the media reaction. But for a minister who deals with immigration, it is a serious matter. So when Mark Harper found himself in that predicament, he jumped beforebeing pushed.
Why that should be is down to a number of reasons, one of which is that Harper will have seen what happened to Aidan Burley, a mere backbencher, as he was pursued by the Mail On Sunday to the extent that his family was targeted, with his fiancée being harassed and her parents made the subject of press intrusion. Best do the deed and live to fight another day.
the view from Beaubodor
Moreover, Harper could point to his doing the right thing as a plus point when the next reshuffle comes along – which they tend to do, at regular intervals, throughout Parliaments. But there was another reason: Harper was in office when the “Go home van”, or “Racist van” began touring racially mixed areas of the UK. It was seen as potentially divisive: an example of dog-whistle politics, aimed at the UKIP threat.
So he had effectively boxed himself in. But this could not be admitted openly: there had, instead, to be spin to paint Harper as some shining light of honour in the political darkness. Who might step forward and paint the unfortunate minister thus? Buccaneering Dan Byles, representing North Warwickshire, certainly would: his ability to toe the approved line was clear.
“Very sad to see Mark Harper, an honourable and principled minister, resign for his mistake. But in doing so he demonstrates his integrity” told Byles. And by complete coincidence, Rob Wilson, the Fred Scuttle lookalike who is supposed to be representing Reading East, was of identical mind: “[Mark Harper] made an honourable resignation from Govt today. He should be back soon”.
The bug was clearly spreading, so far in fact that it crossed the North Atlantic, where former Tory MP and professional troll Louise Mensch, now representing the distant constituency of Manhattan Upmarket, was keen to show that she knows everything about everything: “[Mark Harper] immediately took responsibility for his mistake. What a contrast to Labour, commitment to policy. I hope back in Govt soon”.
Yes, what a contrast to Labour, because the party in opposition can hardly contribute resignations for policies they have no part in formulating and implementing. Harper has the taint of the “Racist van” campaign washed from him by his allegedly selfless act, which is most convenient for the Tories. And nobody questions him on the detail, for instance whether he was paying the minimum wage.
It looks a little too tidy. And a little too well-spun. But for now, he’s got away with it.