Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Wednesday is a day for all Cabinet Ministers to fear. Michael Fallon resigned on a Wednesday. Priti Patel was forced out on a Wednesday. And on Wednesday this week it was Damian Green’s turn to be fired.
And let’s not beat around the bush, all three of these Cabinet Ministers were indeed fired – fired by a Prime Minister who is supposedly very weak. Well, let me put it to you that firing the Deputy Prime Minister is not the act of a weak Prime Minister: it’s the act of someone who knows her own mind and knew what she had to do.
On a personal level, I feel desperately sad for Damian and his family. I regard him as a friend, and someone who is fundamentally a decent person. He will have found the whole sorry saga personally humiliating and a total embarrassment.
I don’t deny that he had to go, given the fact that he didn’t reveal he had indeed known about the police inquiry into the porn found on his computer. Quite why he decided on that course of action, only he can know
But let us not lose sight of the fact that he was effectively brought down by two ex Metropolitan Police officers, who made the whole matter public in the first place, and clearly felt there was a score to settle. These two individuals are the subject of an inquiry, and I hope the book is thrown at them.
Let us remember that Green still denies that he either downloaded or looked at the porn on his computer. So, if it wasn’t him, who was it? If it was indeed someone else, what a pity they haven’t come forward and fessed up.
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The Prime Minister had a busy day on Wednesday. She did PMQs with Green sitting alongside her. She then did a two hour stint in front the Liaison Select Committee, and displayed the coolness of a cucumber. She knew what was about to happen but gave no sign of it.
She did the dirty deed shortly afterwards, and then told one or two of her senior colleagues. Amazingly, nothing leaked. Just to show what a difficult day a Prime Minister has, she then phoned the King of Saudi Arabia to persuade him to open the Yemeni port of Hodeida to allow food supplies into the country – a call which apparently proved fruitful, as the Saudis announced shortly afterwards they would do as she had asked.
And then the announcement came at around 8.45pm. The exchange of letters made it clear that Green didn’t want to go. But if you are a Cabinet minister and don’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, you don’t really leave the Prime Minister with much alternative. I suspect it was an interview without coffee and a rather strained conversation, with the prime minister on broadcast, rather than listening mode.
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Given that the announcement of Green’s departure came at about 8.45pm, you’d have thought that both of the 24 hour news channels would have gone into overdrive, and switched on Breaking News mode.
Nope. Not a bit of it. Sky News proceeded to broadcast an hour-long documentary at 9pm on arctic ice (I kid you not), while the BBC went to their normal Outside Resource show (at least, I think that’s what it was called).
Have the editors of these channels lost their marbles, or simply forgotten what the phrase ‘breaking news’ actually means? The biggest political resignation/firing of the year, and neither channel went into rolling news mode. I don’t think I was alone in thinking: WTF!
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Speculation now is now inevitably turning to who will take over the role as ‘Theresa’s Willie’. It was Margaret Thatcher who said that ‘every prime minister needs a ‘Willie’, in tribute to her deputy, Willie Whitelaw, who consistently gave her very wise counsel, and made it his business to calm down any potential Cabinet revolts.
May sometimes cuts a rather lonely figure. She doesn’t have large numbers of friends or allies in parliament, so it’s important that she has someone she can turn to in cabinet. Talk of bringing back William Hague into this sort of role is fanciful. He’s already ruled it out and has psychologically ‘moved on’.
Jeremy Hunt is being mentioned in dispatches, but some would question whether he is ‘political’ enough. David Lidington is another possibility, but he’s doing a good job at Justice, and ought to be left to get on with the job, to coin a phrase beloved by the Prime Minister.
Personally, I wouldn’t replace like for like, as I am not sure it’s possible. I’d put someone middle-ranking into the Cabinet Office but make either David Davis or Amber Rudd First Secretary of State. So given my record of predictions this year, that almost certainly won’t happen!
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This is my final column of another tumultuous year. Surely 2018 has to be quieter, doesn’t it? Well, doesn’t it?!? A very Happy Christmas to you all, and thanks so much for reading my ramblings over the course of the last year.