Kevin Maguire: Pestminster could be the final undoing of Theresa May

Written by Kevin Maguire on 3 November 2017 in Opinion

The current PM has looked like a bystander as decades of dirty secrets are aired in Westminster.

The vicar’s daughter is as swamped by a Pestminster crisis as the son of the manse was by the expenses scandal.

The chronic enfeeblement of an already weak Theresa May echoes the manic panic of Gordon Brown. Like the ex-Labour prime minister, the current premier is ill-equipped to deal with the crises as an other-worldly naive stranger to the low morals of the least salubrious oxygen wasters in the House of Horrors.

So the May’s jaw drops too with disbelieving fury at a steady flow of charges which threatens to build into a flood at the weekend. Downing Street is braced for allegations of grotesque and serious criminal behaviour which would see more ministers following Michael Fallon on the walk of shame out of high office and into oblivion. Names and potential evidence are now flying thick and fast in Westminster as years, indeed decades, of dirty secrets are aired with the abusers hang out to dry.

One Tory adviser told me a young Conservative MP needs consoling and "talking down daily” over a vile video circulating on the web. Elsewhere outwardly respectable politicians, Labour as well as Tory plus several in smaller parties, are ashen-faced zombies fearing that past outrages will come back to haunt them and result in public disgrace.

Whips are in the firing line when MPs are breaking free of tribal ties to denounce inaction when complaints were lodged, including the wandering hands of another Tory minister so infamous that his female colleagues would get out of a lift if he stepped in. The groper calculated women on his own side wouldn't blow the whistle but he kept his hands off female MPs in other parties.

Comparisons are heard with John Major’s family unfriendly Back to Basics calamity of the mid 1990s yet that was a self-inflicted catastrophe long before we discovered the moralising grey man’s guilty secret (red hot spicy trysts with dumped minister Edwina Currie). Pestminster, like expenses, is out of Harold Macmillan’s bumper big book of unpredictable events.

Any PM at the peak of his or her powers would struggle to navigate the perils of this tsunami. A foundering May, a wilting leader who'd be out of her depth in a puddle at the moment, is drowning.

Her old friend and deputy Damian Green, the first secretary of state, turning to lawyers betrays a vulnerability. The failure to suspend Stephen Crabb for sexting a teenage girl and continued tolerance of a Brexit minister, Mark Garnier, who instructed a female assistant to buy him a couple of vibrators, was bad advice.

And to reward Gavin Williamson, a chief whip who gave that advice, with the plum job of defence secretary after Fallon drank the whisky and picked up the revolver placed on a table by No 10 was the unsure touch of a doomed premier.

The venom poured by Tories on a Williamson looking after himself and a May letting him is utterly poisonous, way off the toxicity scale. The noxious allegations anticipated over the next few days will only strengthen the vitriol.

Calling a meeting on Monday of party leaders feels wholly inadequate from a PM ignoring the Suffragette call for deeds not words. May's reluctance to condemn and take stronger action against transgressors and enduring mystery when her status as only the second woman prime minister and a female prime minister surely offers the vicar's daughter firm moral ground from which to preach.

Labour's suspension of avuncular Kelvin Hopkins over suggestive texts and allegations he rubbed himself up against a female student young enough to be his granddaughter was a reminder Jeremy Corbyn's party also faces penetrating scrutiny.

Questions will be asked about the handling of past complaints including Hopkins' subsequent promotion to the frontbench and particularly raped Bex Bailey's shocking disclosure she was discouraged by an official from reporting her attacker, a more senior party member, to the police.

The expenses scandal demonstrated, however, the governing party of the day and its prime minister is held most responsible by the electorate. May's inability to get a grip on this scandal means the sordid rampages of political predators, not Brexit, might be the end of her and perhaps this wobbling Tory government.

Nobody knows where this Pestminster crisis is going but Downing Street is terrified, with May appearing largely a bystander rather than directing events. Molten anger at her glaring lack of leadership has been expressed noisily by the majority of Tory MPs who aren't fondlers or worse. It may be the prime minister's final undoing.



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