Relentlessly, right up to the line, 2017 continues to surprise and unsettle. Damian Green believed that he was in the clear. So did many of his colleagues and sources close to the Prime Minister. But in the end it was his efforts to fight off allegations from a decade ago – rather than the incident with a young, female journalist – that saw him off. Green claimed that he had never been told that police had found pornography on a laptop connected to him. This was not true. And so the Prime Minister asked him to resign. It doesn’t mean that the ‘de facto Deputy Prime Minister’ accessed the pornography, or indeed that he had done anything untoward, but you cannot deceive in public statements and expect to carry on at the top.
It is a tribute to Theresa May’s remarkable ability to survive that she faces no serious threat despite having just sacked one of her few friends in politics. Since Oxford she and Green have been close. They joined Parliament together in the same year, they shared a great deal of their political outlook and – since the disastrous election – he has acted as her eyes and ears across Government. Losing him is a blow, but for most Prime Ministers it would also create a threat to their own position. Not so, somehow, for May.
In Westminster, many feel uncomfortable at this latest twist. There is a feeling that the police force and the civil service have worked together to avenge themselves over the events of 2008. Back then, Green – working for David Davis – ran a mole in the private office of the then Labour Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Private, secret information was leaked to Green and he, with his boss, deployed that information ruthlessly. The civil service was appalled. The police were called. But on a wave of Parliamentary anger and public sympathy, Green was cleared. Officers and mandarins lost their jobs, Green did not. When the Cabinet Secretary launched this latest investigation into Green’s personal conduct, his old enemies saw their chance. This time, they got their man.
Understandably, May seems to lack the appetite or the energy for a major reshuffle immediately. She will be mourning her lost colleague – adding his portrait to her growing album of those she has left by the wayside. She does not wish, now, to rush into appointing a replacement. If the post of First Secretary of State is to be filled (it is not always filled and it may be left empty) then perhaps Amber Rudd will benefit. Alternatively, May might offer it to one of her more trusted Leave colleagues – Davis and Fox are both seen as dependable in their loyalty.
2017 has been a hell of a year for our Prime Minister. A rolling, rampage of events. Some of them, the PM caused herself – the election springs to mind – but many seem to have sprung from the ether. Luck has not been on Theresa May’s side, this year. But as she marches on, in no immediate danger and certain to make it to January, it is clear that resilience is. The Prime Minister is here to stay – despite everything – for at least a little longer. In itself, this is quite the achievement.