Tuesday 21 November 2017

'Dam has broken' on Westminster sleaze scandal as Fallon quits his defence job

Michael Fallon. Photo: PA
Michael Fallon. Photo: PA

Jack Maidment

The Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has claimed the "dam has broken" on the Westminster sleaze scandal after Michael Fallon resigned as UK defence secretary.

Ms Davidson said that the "boys' own locker room culture" that has prevailed in "male-dominated professions" now "has got to stop".

She also warned that "pretty big shovels" will be required to clear out the Westminster "stable" in the weeks ahead.

Ms Davidson's intervention came as a tide of allegations and rumours relating to sexual harassment and abuse continues to grip Westminster.

The scandal claimed its first big scalp on Wednesday evening when Mr Fallon quit his post after admitting his behaviour had "fallen below the high standards required" in the role.

Standards

Ms Davidson told BBC Radio 4's 'Today' programme: "As lawmakers and people that make decisions we have to hold ourselves, our personal conduct, to a high standard, we have to run our offices, our personal offices, to the high standard as well as public office and the offices of state to a high standard.

"The dam has broken on this now and these male-dominated professions, overwhelmingly male-dominated professions, where the boys' own locker room culture has prevailed and it has all been a bit of a laugh has got to stop."

The Scottish Tory leader likened the need to clean up Westminster to Hercules's fifth labour, when he was ordered to clear out King Augeas's stables.

Speaking at the annual 'Spectator' magazine awards dinner on Wednesday night, she said: "Just because we have a woman in Number 10, at the top of the tree in Plaid Cymru, in the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP, in the DUP, doesn't mean that sexism and misogyny are somehow resigned to the dustbin of history when it comes to politics, nor when we look at some of the house-clearing that is going to be, and needs to happen in the next few weeks, months and years ahead are we going to say that we didn't need some pretty big shovels for the Augean stable."

Mr Fallon's shock announcement came after it emerged he had repeatedly put his hand on journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer's knee at a dinner in 2002. His resignation will fuel speculation that other ministers could also be forced to resign.

When allegations of sexual misconduct first began circulating last week, ministers were warned by Downing Street that "serious action" would be taken by UK Prime Minister Theresa May where necessary.

Two of Mr Fallon's former ministerial colleagues are the subject of probes.

Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood is looking into claims made against Mrs May's de facto deputy Damian Green.

The Cabinet Office investigation was launched after activist Kate Maltby, who is three decades younger than the first secretary of state, told 'The Times' that Mr Green "fleetingly" touched her knee during a meeting in a Waterloo pub in 2015, and claimed that a year later sent her a "suggestive" text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in the newspaper.

Mr Green said any allegation that he made sexual advances to Ms Maltby was "untrue (and) deeply hurtful".

He has strenuously denied the claims and has instructed libel lawyers, and is also prepared to release text messages he sent to her to try to prove his innocence.

The department is separately probing whether International Trade Minister Mark Garnier breached the ministerial code after he reportedly admitted asking his secretary to buy sex toys and calling her "sugar t**s".

Yesterday, Downing Street announced that Gavin Williamson had been appointed as Mr Fallon's successor.

Mr Williamson, who was the government's chief whip before this appointment, will take the job having never held ministerial office.

He left Downing Street with a military officer and got into a waiting car without speaking to reporters.

Replaced

Mr Williamson was replaced as chief whip by his former deputy Julian Smith, while Tatton MP Esther McVey - a former TV presenter who served as a minister in David Cameron's government - was made deputy chief whip.

The swift ascent of 41-year-old South Staffordshire MP Mr Williamson, who became one of Mrs May's inner circle after acting as parliamentary campaign manager in her successful bid for the Conservative leadership, was greeted with surprise in Westminster and appeared to cause some consternation in Tory ranks.

Apparently referring to Mr Williamson's promotion, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston tweeted: "There are times when offered a job that it would be better to advise that another would be more experienced and suited to the role."

Irish Independent

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