The Westminster harassment scandal has unfolded just when politicians have to make some epochal decisions, and it will leave many voters wondering if they are up to it. Last week, for instance, interest rates went up. This was an important moment, marking the beginning of the end of an era when central banks, desperate to stir economic activity, chose borrowers over savers. It now has to be followed by a Budget that backs business, house building and investment, married to a Brexit that boosts productivity by expanding markets and getting the state off our backs. But who is articulating the vision for this?
Politics has felt rudderless for a while, and politicians all the more introspective for it. These accusations of impropriety pick up old themes: the abuse of power, Byzantine plotting and, potentially, putting the interests of party before country or the vulnerable. A Labour activist says that she was advised not to report a sexual assault because it could damage her career. It is now being asked who knew what and when about an allegation of inappropriate behaviour made a year ago against Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, after which he continued to advance through British politics. A separate allegation against him has been taken to the police. Mr Elphicke denies any wrongdoing. And it is reported that Sir Michael Fallon’s shortcomings, to which he has admitted, were familiar to officials, despite the fact that he was serving in the highly sensitive position of defence secretary.
How much the people who now work closely to Theresa May knew about all of this remains to be seen. But if the Government takes this matter as seriously as it says it does, which is welcome news, then it was odd to move Gavin Williamson out of the whips’ office just when a major scandal and the Government’s slim control of the Commons would convince many men that they should defer their ambitions and stay put. The Tories need common sense and teamwork. They will have to return to the EU negotiating table soon and shepherd critical legislation through the Commons. The sooner Parliament is cleaned up, the better. If there is to be a reckoning with the past, so be it – but it must not distract from the country’s future.