Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Three sackings and a Brexit Christmas

British Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green

Margaret Thatcher could not care less about the sexual misdemeanours of her cabinet. Theresa May probably does not care either but the zeitgeist is different. 2017 was the year when predatory behaviour by men in positions of power was exposed.
Damian Green is an old friend of the prime minister from their university days. He was made first secretary of state and deputy prime minister to ease the burden of Brexit with which the government had been struggling since triggering the departure article last March.
He was promoted fast – over promoted in the view of some – which often means that skeletons stayed in the cupboard that would otherwise have surfaced had his rise been slower and to a less elevated status.
It was said of John Major that he rose without trace. He became foreign secretary from nowhere and then chancellor of the exchequer and finally prime minister in less than two years. He rose so fast, it did not come out until much later that he betrayed his wife with the former government minister, Edwina Currie of salmonella fame.
She was an insufferable splutter-mouth who wrote a book about the affair after he ceased to be prime minister. She praised his skills as a lover – a tiger in bed she said – although apparently she was also the source of the leak to the Sun newspaper that he wore his vest tucked under his Y-fronts for which he was ridiculed and humiliated and, unusually for a politician, it hurt him a lot.
Where was I? Ah, yes, skeletons in Damian Green’s cupboard. He was asked to resign last week because of breaches of the ministerial code. Basically, he denies allegations of downloading pornography on to his parliamentary computer but he now accepts that these allegations were put to him by the police, which raises more questions than answers. Why did he lie about being questioned by the police?
As every criminal lawyer knows, the fact that a person lied is not always evidence of guilt in criminal law because people lie for different reasons – to cover up politically embarrassing behaviour for example – but under the ministerial code it is enough to get you the sack.
According to the retired police officer who blew the whistle on him, the evidence that he was downloading pornography is that in between the downloading there were email messages that were undoubtedly sent and answered by him – strong evidence that he was the downloader you would think, except that no charges could have been brought because the pornography was apparently lawful.
As if all that were not enough it seems the prime minister was shown evidence that her old friend engaged in inappropriate behaviour towards the 30-year-old daughter of some close friends of his – he is 61 – that made her feel uncomfortable. So not to put too fine a point on it, Damian Green behaved like a lecherous liar and had to be sacked.
But it does not end there because in a previous incarnation, as May’s immigration minister when she was home secretary, he was responsible for deporting people whose presence in the UK he deemed as not conducive to the public good, in some cases, on account of behaviour not dissimilar to his own. Now that is pure unadulterated hypocrisy, pure and simple.
Damian Green is not the first cabinet minister to go for inappropriate sexual conduct and abuse of power. Sir Michael Fallon had to resign as defence secretary for inappropriate sexual conduct. His inappropriate behaviour was touching a journalist’s knee and making a lewd suggestion to a female member of the cabinet that made me cringe.
I wonder how this plays out in France where having a mistress is virtually obligatory and where Dominique Strauss-Kahn became head of the IMF and could have become president of France until his libido got the better of him with a chamber maid in New York.
The only cabinet minister to have been sacked for normal behaviour over the last two months was Priti Patel. She was sacked for not being transparent about the true extent of a working holiday she spent in Israel last summer. Nothing wrong with going on holiday there, but if you are a minister of the crown you do not go to the Golan Heights for the purpose of transacting government business because in the eyes of the British government that is occupied territory. In the eyes of the Israelis the Golan Heights are theirs to keep as indeed is Jerusalem and other parts of Eretz Israel. But this is not the stance taken by the British government or the international community.
Indeed just this week the UK with most other countries condemned the US in a resolution at the UN calling for the withdrawal of US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital precisely because it is occupied territory in the eyes of international law. The fact that it is the de facto capital of Israel as the Israelis and the Americans assert is neither here nor there.
So Priti Patel was summonsed back from a trip to Kenya and Uganda in her capacity as international development secretary, driven to Downing Street, asked to hand in her resignation and left via the back door straight to the back benches.
Three sackings and a Brexit Christmas party was not a bad way to end a difficult year for an embattled prime minister. The survivor in all this is Boris Johnson. Despite calls for his resignation for numerous gaffes he has survived. Still he is an appalling foreign secretary.
The best foreign secretaries in recent times were William Hague, Robin Cook and Douglas Hurd. The worst was Jack Straw but Boris Johnson takes the biscuit.
He will love me for this but he is a bit like Winston Churchill before World War II. Churchill had an awful First War as Lord of the Admiralty. He was held responsible for the defeat at Gallipoli and returned to the trenches. In the 1920s he had been a very class-biased home secretary during the 1926 General Strike and ineffectual as chancellor of the exchequer. He then spent the wilderness years brooding and scheming until it became clear that Neville Chamberlain was not going to make a good war time leader. He took over and became an excellent war time leader. As he said with disarming modesty, ‘it was the nation that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to provide the roar.’
The problem with Brexit, however, is that it requires diligence, discipline and conscientiousness that can best be provided by an unassuming vicar’s daughter, not someone wishing to emulate Churchill. Besides it is one thing to withdraw from the legal construct of the Europe Union and quite another to resist a military attack from Europe.
At the end of a difficult year, it is looking good for Theresa May, and I must confess I am beginning to warm to her. She reminds me of football teams that sometimes play amazing football when they know they cannot win. She knows she will not be leader at the next election but she is playing amazingly good politics over Brexit.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge

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