Michael Fallon seems in practice to have been fired, but on paper he resigned, in order to make his departure from the Cabinet easier for Theresa May. Damian Green has been less accommodating.
“I regret that I’ve been asked to resign from the Government,” he wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday, thereby making it clear that in his view he should have been able to continue in post. He accepts that he made “misleading statements” about pornography discovered on his Parliamentary computers (though he continues to deny downloading or viewing it) and apologises to Kate Maltby for making her “feel uncomfortable” (though he “does not recognise the events” that she described).
May will desparately have wanted to avoid a Green resignation, let alone a sacking. As her reply to his letter says, they are colleagues whose relationship reaches back to their Oxford days as party members and aspiring politicians. Unlike Fallon, whose presence in Cabinet the Prime Minister inherited, Green was her own creation at the top – first as Work and Pensions Secretary, then as First Secretary of State. She brought him back to government after David Cameron had let him go. Both her external and internal opponents will pounce on Green’s original appointment, his sacking, or both to accuse her of dire judgement. They will also ask why the Cabinet Secretary was asked to rule on claims made about Green before he became a Minister.
Some will not believe Green’s denials about his computers, and say that since viewing pornography at work can be a sacking offence elsewhere, the same should apply in this case. They may also take Maltby’s part. Others will not, and claim that putting one’s hand on someone else’s knee should not result in dismissal. They may also accept Green’s account, or say that watching pornography in the office shouldn’t force a resignation – and add that an almost-decade-long vendetta by former policemen shouldn’t be allowed to succeed.
Either way, there sometimes comes a point when a senior politician must resign not because he originally acted wrongly, but because his continued presence in government becomes unsustainable. Fairly or unfairly, this had become Green’s direction of travel – speeded and confirmed by his confessed lack of candour. If he had stayed in office following the Cabinet Secretary’s report, the newspaper trawl over his past would have redoubled and his media appearances would have become hazardous. It is hard to believe that his effectiveness as a Minister would not have suffered – and as the chairman of a mass of Cabinet committees, such a development would have hit the Government hard. Perhaps he would have been able to fight his way back to political full health; perhaps not.
That we can believe he could perhaps have survived his own admissions of fault is a tribute to his skills as a politician. He is an operator of the first rank – acute, witty, hard-working, loyal, gifted and with a clear set of left-of-Tory-centre beliefs (one of which, devotion to EU membership, is certainly not ours). The Government will miss him. None the less, May had little choice but to act as she has done, given the contents of the Cabinet Secretary’s report. David Davis appears to have drawn the same bleak conclusion.
It is being briefed that there will be no immediate reshuffle. We have previously suggested that if May insists on a new First Secretary of State, David Lidington or Jeremy Hunt would fit the bill. However, there is no particular need for one. The previous Cabinet Office Minister, Ben Gummer, wasn’t a full Cabinet member at all, let alone deputy in effect to the Prime Minister. The departure of his successor leaves May a little more vulnerable, more friendless at the top, and a bit more exposed. First Nick Timothy goes, and Fiona Hill too; now Green is gone.