Another bad week for Theresa May
In another bad week for the Tory leader, she was forced to find a new defence secretary after Sir Michael Fallon's resignation amid a swirling sexual harassment controversy in parliament. FT editor Lionel Barber and Janan Ganesh discuss the outlook.
Filmed by Andy Mitchell. Produced by Daniel Garrahan
By any measure, it's been a bad week for Theresa May. Britain's prime minister has been forced to find a new Defence Secretary after the resignation of Sir Michael Fallon, resulting from a mounting controversy over sexual harassment in the House of Commons. There may be more to come.
Janan, this has been a very bad week, but a very bad month, very bad six months for Theresa May. Can you just tell us, where is this so-called scandal going?
I think this coming weekend will tell us a lot. Very often in the Sunday newspapers, there are revelations, political stories which have forced resignations over the years. Whether there'll be another one this coming Sunday that affects another cabinet minister, maybe someone in the opposition will have a lot to do with how long the story lasts over the coming weeks. But already, it's claimed a job that not that long ago was considered one of the two or three top jobs in cabinet, which was Defence Secretary. Certainly in the Cold War, the loss of a Defence Secretary in the UK would have been considered a huge deal.
Is this, on the spectrum, it's more than sexual peccadilloes, but on the same time, it's not Harvey Weinstein--
--this former studio head who had to resign over multiple allegations.
Yeah, the specific allegations and incidents to do with Sir Michael Fallon and, to a certain extent, Damian Green, who's a Deputy Prime Minister, don't seem to be of that order of magnitude, but serious enough to have upset people and to have brought these figures down. There is also a parallel list of Tory MPs doing the rounds on the internet which includes a whole spectrum of alleged misdeeds. So a lot of issues are being bunched up, slightly elided, the differences between them. But the overall shame, I think, could end up being deeper even than the expenses scandal that hit parliament in 2009.
And is-- does that point to a sort of change in values, culture? Is it that the institution is somehow in decay and not proper accountability, abuse of power?
Well, Sir Michael Fallon in his resignation letter to the prime minister said, well, social norms and values have changed over the past 10, 15 years. Things that were acceptable then are not acceptable now. I thought that was a bit odd. It's not as if even putting your knee on someone's-- putting your hand on someone's knee unsolicited was a fantastically acceptable thing to do--
--especially if you are a Defence Secretary.
--especially if you're in that rank of government. But it wasn't a particularly acceptable thing to do even in the year 2000, let alone let alone now.
And, of course, this really does further weaken an already weak government that's resting on the support of the Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, is facing very tricky Brexit negotiations, and an upcoming budget.
And every time one of these crises occurs to the government, I think, well, this will be it, this will bring down Theresa May the prime minister. But then I thought that on the morning of June the 9th, after the election that she had mishandled and failed in really, I thought that off the Grenfell Tower fire in late June when her response was seen as a bit stiff and unsympathetic, we all definitely thought that after the conference speech she gave in October where the stage disintegrated and she coughed her way through the speech. Every time, she survives.
And I think it's simply through a lack of alternatives, a certain amount of conservative fear of a general election that Labour will have a very realistic chance of winning, and the fact that what alternatives there are, such as the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, aren't particularly keen on taking the job before the negotiations to leave the European Union to completed. And so you've got this weird stasis that could last much longer than it seems capable of doing.
Just one last question about this new Defence Secretary--
--Gavin Williamson, who, as I understand, keeps a tarantula on his desk in his office.
There are lots of interesting things about Gavin Williamson. I would say what the viewers need to know is that this guy was very close to David Cameron, the previous prime minister, and he's very close to Theresa May. Anyone who can remain on good terms with those two antagonists is some political operator.
Francis Urquhart or Frank Underwood.
They have to invent him. It's a bit like, if I had to choose an analogy, playing for Tottenham, moving to Arsenal, remaining popular with both. Not even Sol Campbell could do that.
Yeah, except of course, if you're moving to Arsenal, you're going down in the league. That's only been true for five minutes. We'll see how long Tottenham can hang on to their manager.
Yeah, thank you, Janan. And I-- you and I also celebrate that famous win against Real Madrid at Wembley.
One of us did.