There were never going to be any resignations last weekend, as the Murdoch Sun claimed. And it was not just about a historic grope of Julia Hartley Dooda’s knee, despite, once more, the inmates of the Baby Shard bunker suggesting otherwise. The now former (and disgraced) Defence Secretary Michael Fallon knew that his behaviour had “fallen short”, to use his happy phrase, on several occasions over the years.
No more of that inappropriate behaviour
Fallon, as ITV political editor Robert Peston reminded us, “was aware that his behaviour with women over many years would be regarded as inappropriate if disclosed”. He “found the stress of waiting for someone to make a complaint debilitating”. He knew he’d behaved badly, and knew that in today’s climate, he was unlikely to get away with it. Moreover, Peston did not have to look far to find potential complainants.
The killer line in his analysis was “several women Tory MPs say he fell short of the conduct they expect of all men”. Not interns, not researchers, not other Commons staff, but his fellow MPs. No mention needed of that “attractive Russian blonde” he had to be pulled off at a party. having already allegedly indulged in acts of inappropriate touching.
Peston is not out on a limb with that analysis: the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg observed “it's also been suggested to the BBC that Number 10 was approached directly by several women with concerns about Sir Michael just this afternoon”, and that “While sources close to him want to underline that they had not been told of any more allegations to come, or anything more serious, they were clearly aware that there could be more to come”.
He knew, and his colleagues knew, that he had been behaving badly on a regular enough basis to know that more could be on the way. And worse for Theresa May is that she knows he is not the only one in her party with a less than squeaky clean past. Peston once more: “she dare not do more tomorrow than replace him … because she does not yet know which other of her ministers and MPs will be fatally tainted by allegations of abusive or harassing behaviour”. She cannot undertake the reshuffle she would like to happen.
All of which leads into the obvious question: who’s going to be next? One look at the now infamous spreadsheet, which for various reasons cannot be shown here (don’t ask), shows that, apart from Ms May’s deputy Damian Green, who is consulting very expensive lawyers probably to no purpose, there are many more ministers, not all of whom can claim that they are doing nothing of which their constituents would not approve.
Worse, although many Tory apologists explain some of the behaviour away by saying it has happened “with consent”, the CPS guidelines for Freedom to Consent talk of “Where the suspect was in a position of power where they could abuse their trust, especially because of their position or status”. Also, the question has to be asked - why is Fallon not leaving the Commons for good? How can he still sit as an MP?
Michael Fallon’s resignation, to paraphrase Winshton, may not be the end. It may not even be the beginning of the end. But it may be the end of the beginning.