The sex abuse scandal has caused its first Parliamentary resignation, and it’s a big name that has fallen.
Sir Michael Fallon has served as a minister under 4 Prime Ministers (including Margaret Thatcher and Sir John Major) and was regarded as ‘inflappable’ and ‘Mr Reliable’ by many Tories. He was a reaonably safe middle-of-the-road Conservative who was even touted as an emergency, short-term replacement for Theresa May should she resign suddenly.
Often the minister nominated to do the media rounds, Fallon’s position as Defence Secretary looked extremely secure, and despite taking up the position under David Cameron has been surprisingly loyal to May over the past few months.
Fallon resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct. According to journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, he repeatedly put his hand on her knee in 2002. Whilst she has shrugged off the incident in recent days, Fallon’s resignation suggests that he is aware of more incidents which are similar although are yet to emerge. He stated that his conduct has “fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces” and “what might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now.”
At a time of instability for the armed forces, many will be sad to see Fallon go. As a result, May is expected to appoint his replacement as soon as tomorrow morning. Contenders include Tobias Elwood, the Defence minister and former solider who attempted to save PC Keith Palmer’s life after the Westminster terror attack earlier this year. Penny Mordaunt would be the first female Defence Secretary if chosen, and although several current cabinet ministers’ names are being batted around, I would think it unlikely that someone like Sajid Javid or Priti Patel would be chosen, as this would force May to carry out a larger reshuffle, which she is not thought to want to do. However, we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of the Prime Minister using this as an opportunity to undertake a larger reshuffle, and an opportunity to sack Philip Hammond or Boris Johnson. A shorter reshuffle is more likely given the suddenness of Fallon’s resignation.
Perhaps the most significant thing to note about Fallon’s resignation and the scandal as a whole is that if a few more senior cabinet members were to resign, this scandal could potentially have the ability to bring down the government. This is admittedly unlikely, but Damian Green, May’s de facto deputy, has already been accused of similar misconduct. And we all know that May’s position at the moment isn’t exactly secure.
More will become clear in the morning, but this is definitely one to watch.
Update on 5/11: It’s become clear in the past few days that Fallon did not jump, rather he was pushed by May.
It’s thought to have come after House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom complained to the Prime Minister that the then Defence Secretary made sexually suggestive comments to her.
On the topic of Chief Whip Gavin Williamson being appointed as Fallon’s replacement, it seems an odd decision. He was regarded as an effective Whip in a difficult job, given the lack of a majority. However, it seems that he was moved to make way for new blood, in the form of his deputy Julian Smith. Some say that there’s only so long that you can spend in the job, given the constant need to persuade rebellious MPs.