I don’t really want to bore you all with the same old adage of a week being a long time in politics but… Well, a week is a long time in politics.
We’ve had our ups and downs in the UK in recent years, but several pots seem to have come to a boil in the last ten days with mini-reshuffles taking place across the country. It can be hard to keep track, so I’ve brought it all together in one handy blog post.
It all started over in the States a few weeks ago, when rumours of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged harassment of female actors caused many of us to reflect on behaviours witnessed and experienced elsewhere. The House of Commons was (sadly) no different. Tales of misconduct on the part of MPs and party staff surfaced, including a leaked spreadsheet naming several Conservatives. Michael Fallon became the first casualty.
Accused of inappropriately touching a female journalist and making crude comments towards Andrea Leadsom, Fallon tendered his resignation from his position as Secretary of State for Defence last week. Gavin Williamson, formerly Chief Whip, assumed office the next day, causing Deputy Whip Julian Smith to receive a promotion and Esther McVey to be plucked back from the backbenches to fill the vacancy.
Scottish politics did not go unharmed. Minister for Childcare & Early Years, Mark McDonald, was next to resign after reports surfaced that he had sent inappropriate text messages. There was a few day’s lag in the replacement being announced, but on Tuesday it was confirmed Maree Todd would be promoted to the front bench.
Meanwhile in Wales, First Minister, Carwyn Jones, was forced to appoint new AMs to his ministerial team after the sacking of Carl Sargeant, who had also become the subject of sexual harassment allegations, and the departure of Jane Hunt (Chief Whip). Full details of that reshuffle are here.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of reshuffle rumours for Wales. The untimely death of Carl Sargeant shook the Assembly to its core. Reports surfaced that the veteran AM had taken his own life, leading many to question Jones’ handling of the harassment allegations.
Thursday afternoon saw the FM meet with Labour AMs as speculation that he would be forced to resign intensified. However, in a statement yesterday evening, Carwyn Jones made no such announcement, instead pledging to cooperate with the Coroner’s Inquest into Sargeant’s death.
Back in the UK Government, an entirely separate debacle claimed the head of a second Secretary in a week. Priti Patel faced questioning over a secret meeting with Israeli officials. An apology on Monday appeared to smooth things over with the Prime Minister, but further meetings came to light shortly after and calls for resignation climaxed. Called back early from a trip to Africa (and after her flight was tracked by thousands of internet users and her car followed by TV helicopters), Patel handed in her resignation on Wednesday evening.
Penny Mordaunt took over the role on Thursday afternoon, vacating the role of Minister of State for Disabled People. This led to Sarah Newton being moved from the Home Office to the DWP, while relative rookie Victoria Atkins takes on the brief of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office.
That might not be all for the UK Government as it continues to face questions over Boris Johnson’s comments on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. It has been reported she may be given an extra five years in an Iran prison after Johnson suggested she was training journalists while on a family holiday. However, these events were overtaken by Patel’s mishap, so the Foreign Secretary so far remains unscathed.
All three governments were rocked by high-profile incidents which may or may not be over. And I’ve not even touched on Northern Ireland, which is now into its ninth month without an Executive…
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