How much longer can things go on like this? That is the question on the lips of Tory ministers and MPs this week. A government that was already facing the monumental challenge of Brexit now finds itself dealing with a scandal that has claimed one cabinet scalp and led to another Conservative MP being referred to the police. At the same time, Priti Patel has been running her own freelance foreign policy.
To make matters worse, the Prime Minister’s closest political ally is caught up in the Westminster scandal. Damian Green is under investigation by the Cabinet Office for his personal conduct. If he has to go —and several of his allies in the government are not optimistic about his prospects — it will be a devastating blow to Theresa May. She brought him into the cabinet for the first time and made him First Secretary of State. If he has to walk, it will raise questions about her judgment. It will also disrupt the government; a large part of his job is to prevent an unmanageable backlog of work building up in No 10. Ministers fret that, if he resigns, they’ll end up waiting forever for decisions from Downing Street on issues great and small.
Admittedly, no party leader would find the debate surrounding sexual conduct at Westminster easy to deal with. The expenses scandal was, by contrast, black and white. It was clear who had committed a serious offence — and there was a way for those guilty of relatively minor transgressions to make amends. This time round, far more of the evidence is disputed.
But Theresa May should be better placed to deal with this scandal than almost any other politician you can think of. She is not part of Westminster’s late-night culture.