What the commentators said
“Morally speaking, this is an equal opportunity horror, one that disgraces all the parties,” said Matthew d’ancona in The Guardian. But it is worst for the Tories: firstly, because they are in power; and secondly, because it plays into their image as the “party of presumption and entitlement”. The whole affair carries “the stench of nastiness, of a repulsive droit de seigneur. But it is also a spectacle of absurdity: all these grey men trying it on, missing the point, pathetically indifferent to the damage they cause.”
Even the most gifted of prime ministers would have struggled to cope with this crisis while also juggling Brexit, a “stuttering” economy and a tiny majority, said Dan Hodges in The Mail on Sunday. But May’s response has been particularly clumsy. While rightly launching inquiries into serious allegations, she offered no rebuttal of the many unsubstantiated and malicious accusations and rumours levelled at 44 Tory MPS in the so-called “dirty dossier” circulated online. And she then made matters worse with a “disastrous” reshuffle, replacing Fallon with former chief whip Gavin Williamson, whose only qualification for the job, in the eyes of many incandescent Tories, is his closeness to the PM.
The sleaze row has further underlined the weakness of May’s position, said George Parker in the FT. Her Cabinet is showing signs of “tipping into anarchy as ministers flout her authority and engage in bitter feuds”. We’ve already had the “accident-prone” Boris Johnson setting out his own “red lines” on Brexit. Now we hear that Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, has been conducting her own foreign policy while on a family holiday in Israel (see page 6). May, “constrained by the need to retain a balance in her top team between both sides of the Brexit debate”, has never looked more impotent. For the PM, the real crisis would be the departure of Green, said James Forsyth in The Spectator. He is her closest ally, trusted enough to take decisions on her behalf. Ministers fear that without him around, the Government would grind to a halt.