You’ve heard of the five stages of grief, here’s Liam Fitzpatrick on the five stages of a Tory ministerial scandal.
1. The scandal breaks.
The first stage of a Tory scandal is the emergence of whichever bullshit they’ve been up to that week. Whether it be corruption, law-breaking, or a good old-fashioned sex scandal, there’s always something going on for the government to defend themselves.
This stage involves something coming to light and the initial calls for the offending Minister to go. There’s often a denial that it even happened, swiftly followed by cast iron proof that it did in fact happen.
2. Ride out the storm.
With the scandal now out in the open and not going away it’s time for attempts to save the Minister from the chop and run the clock down until the media and public get bored and move onto its next target. This stage often sees junior Ministers being sent to flagellate themselves on the breakfast television round (often with the ‘facts’ changing just minutes after the interview). Particularly prominent can-carriers include James Cleverly (for Theresa May), Robert Jenrick (under Boris Johnson) and Chris Philp (Liz Truss’s preferred choice of lapdog). The party in the media (supportive newspapers) tell everyone to move on and focus on the real issues, usually the manufactured culture war of the day.
3. New information comes to light
Just when it looks like the embattled Minister has successfully lived to fight another day, the tale inevitably takes another turn. Whether new pictures of a party come out or further bullying allegations arise, the minister is now under growing pressure and the vultures are circling.
At this stage the government may attempt to launch an ‘independent’ inquiry in a bid to kick the can down the road. If this doesn’t squash the scandal, it’s time for…
4. The dreaded vote of confidence
There’s an old footballing cliché that a board giving a manager a public vote of confidence is akin to the kiss of judas, the beleaguered gaffer inevitably being out on his arse after their next defeat. In recent years the same has been true in politics.
When a scandal reaches fever pitch its time for the PM to claim that the Minister has their “full support” and for their spokesperson to tell the media that “the Prime Minister considers the matter closed”. From that moment you can start your stopwatch because within 72 hours the inevitable happens.
5. The minister resigns
With all other options exhausted and public and political outrage at a new high, the PM decides the Minister is now more trouble than they’re worth and so they’ll have to resign. Cue a laughable exchange of fawning letters before the offender shuffles off to the backbenches. But fear not, as they’ll soon be forgiven and restored to Cabinet when the next scandal opens up a vacancy. And so, the cycle begins anew.