Every leader needs a deputy beside them, a close ally and friend to lean on. Behind every sheriff, bringing order to the Wild West, there’s a faithful deputy willing to put their life on the line. They help keep order and provide a sense of balance to an often stressful and chaotic job. They are the first port of call and the last line of defense. All this makes losing them all the most devastating, as Theresa May has discovered.
For her number two, Prime Minister Theresa May had Damian Green, an old friend from university to keep her going. After her distractions election last year, in which she lost her majority in Parliament, her cabinet was very similar to the one she had before the election. Damien Green was a new addition and held an important position as First Secretary of State. Officially, he was responsible for assisting Theresa May as Prime Minister and overseeing everything to do with the Cabinet.
On a personal level, he was a major stumbling block for any potential rebellions against Theresa May and was a rare breed: someone who didn’t want the top job for himself and actually helped a friend in need. He provided political balance in a sea of confusion over Brexit and was an anchor for Theresa May to hold on to.
Then an allegation, a leak, and an investigation led to his downfall.
Anyone who watches British politics for any length of time will know how damaging leaks and scandals can be. For Damien Green, his downfall came about through the Weinstein effect: powerful men accused of sexual harassment. Green’s was a particularly shocking one after he was accused of inappropriately touching a family friend under a tablecloth. Sex scandals are a staple of British politics, even in the modern age with more liberal ideas and attitudes, but after the Weinstein revelations, the allegations took on a new force.
Then there was a very public and very controversial spat between a retired police detective who claimed that a police raid years ago found porn on Green’s work computer. This added to the pressure and the anger of the public grew greater. Downloading porn at work, they argued, was a sackable offense. Why was Green still holding high office? Was it one rule for some and another for the rest? Green made several statements saying that he was unaware of having such material. The evidence, as it came in, started to prove otherwise.
In the midst of the scandal, the Conservatives made a big mistake: they tried to ride out the storm. While some took the moral high ground and demanded Green to explain himself, most MPs closed ranks and tried to protect their colleague. Theresa May tried to express confidence while the tabloids went after the family friend, slinging as much mud as they could to discredit her. After losing two cabinet ministers in less than a month, Theresa May was reluctant to lose her most senior minister as well.
In the end, a Cabinet investigation gave a verdict that sealed Green’s fate. They found the allegations of inappropriate touching to be ‘plausible’ while his statements over him being unaware of porn on his work computer were ‘misleading and inaccurate’. The latter statement is as close as anyone official could get to saying Green was lying. Both were enough to nail the final nail in Green’s coffin. He was sacked just a week before Christmas.
Now Theresa May cuts an even lonelier figure. Her position has been undermined, though not as fatally as some have thought. A wider reshuffle may see her appoint another close colleague as Deputy Prime Minister and exert a small amount of authority after making progress in Brexit talks.
But the loss of a close friend and staunch ally will wound her deeply. Green was literally irreplaceable and has a trust and confidence that few can boast of. A reshuffle could be dangerous if a big beast with ambition, say, Boris Johnson, gets demoted and quits outright. Even minor changes could lead to wider discontent while the looming complications of Brexit bring the promise of more rebellions.
Theresa May is already weakened and vulnerable, but she managed to survive the worse of 2017. Without Green beside her, 2018 looks less certain.