The Daily Telegraph
Fallon’s fall could open the floodgates
The resignation of Sir Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary not only deprives the Cabinet of one of its most able and experienced members but also marks the first major casualty of the sexual harassment scandal that is sweeping Westminster. Sir Michael was identified earlier this week by the journalist Julia Hartley-brewer as someone who had placed his hand on her knee at a party conference dinner. She said she did not consider herself a victim and had dealt with the matter, which she considered closed.
However, in his resignation letter Sir Michael said he accepted that in the past he had fallen short of the high standards required in the Armed Forces and had decided to stand down. Since the incident happened 15 years ago, and Ms Hartley-brewer felt no harm was caused, it seems a small matter over which to require a minister’s resignation – although Sir Michael has intimated that there are other allegations of impropriety.
In resigning, he has increased the pressure on his ministerial colleagues should similar allegations be levelled at them. To a great extent that was already the effect of Theresa May’s indication that she will embrace a policy of “zero tolerance” towards ministers and Tory MPS guilty of sexual harassment. This could now open the floodgates to a series of resignation demands that would inflict serious damage on her Government at a crucial time in the country’s history as Brexit negotiations enter a pivotal stage.
Her effective deputy, Damian Green, is also in the dock courtesy of a newspaper article written by a woman half his age who alleges he made inappropriate advances, which he emphatically denies. She did not work for Mr Green and therefore is not strictly in the category the Prime Minister had in mind when she called for a tighter code of conduct to govern workplace relationships at Westminster. But neither was Sir Michael.
Like the “back-to-basics” scandal in the Nineties, this affair is developing a life of its own and has the distinctly sulphurous smell of a witch-hunt that is in danger of getting out of hand. While there is a strong case for proper rules to be put in place at the Palace of Westminster to ensure that staffers who feel harassed have someone to complain to, it does not follow that every single example of an unsolicited advance – whether sexual in intent or misinterpreted as such – warrants an explanation, a recantation or a resignation.