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Exit Michael Fallon, stage right.
Exit Michael Fallon, stage right.

May loses first scalp in MP sex scandal

DEFENCE SECRETARY Sir Michael Fallon has resigned – the first MP whose career has taken a nose-dive as a result of the scandal about sexual harassment and abuse which has been growing over the last few days.

A list of MPs and party officials, annotated with allegations about specific or general misbehaviour of a sexual nature, has been widely published – with most of the names blanked out. It’s led to a flurry of activity as the mainstream political parties rush to assure the public that MPs are under control. Some MPs have protested that the allegations against them are false, even libellous – and Fallon is the first to go the other way and, without admitting that they are true, he has reacted as if they are.

However, Fallon’s resignation raises more questions than it answers.

His resignation letter says his behaviour may have “fallen short” of the standards expected by the UK military. Well: has it or hasn’t it? If he’s not sure that it has, why is he resigning? Is resignation something you do “just in case” it turns out that you have done wrong? This has all the uncertainty of a chocolate covered child who admits it “may have” been at the cake mix: that is, none.

Fallon told the BBC that what was “acceptable 15, ten years ago is clearly not acceptable now”. What was acceptable 15 or ten years ago and is no longer acceptable now? Sexual harassment was actually NOT acceptable 15 or ten years ago – at least not to the victim. Perhaps it was just “acceptable” to the perpetrator, along with the feeling of “I won’t get caught out”, which has also changed over time.

Theresa May accepted Fallon’s resignation pretty much as soon as it was tendered. She looked back on his time in the Cabinet and said that she appreciated the “serious manner” in which he had carried out his duties. What serious manner? The serious manner in which he used his powerful position to survive while he was doing his falling short of the standards which those he commanded would have expected of him? That serious manner?

Timing is, it seems, not an issue for the Prime Minister. In accepting Fallon’s resignation, May also paid tribute to the “particular example you wish to set servicemen and women and others”. Which example was that, then? Is it the example of duplicity, of overseeing the military defence of the country while at the same time falling short of the standards those military personnel would expect?

Theresa May has moved fast to show how seriously the Tories, the Government and Parliament are taking the revelations about sexual harassment and abuse. She spoke about it in the Chamber of the House of Commons and she’s calling all political party leaders together next week to discuss what to do about this matter in the future. What she has not done is suggested that someone look into why this level of harassment and abuse could carry on for years, with no one daring to speak out before. What does that say about our society and our government?

Over and above that, if Theresa May wants to show that she is taking the recent revelations seriously, if and when a minister resigns, she should note the resignation without comment. Praising a minister for carrying out his duties which were performed alongside unacceptable conduct in office is belittling that conduct, not taking it seriously.

Man down! How many more are there to go?

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