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20 December 2017updated 21 Dec 2017 11:34am

Don’t mistake the departure of Damian Green for closure

Questions about support for women in Parliament remain unanswered.

By Sarah Ditum

Damian Green might query the difference between a tablecloth and his own hand, but he is apparently able to tell when his boss is done with him. Theresa May asked him to resign, and he’s resigned. This comes following the conclusions of a cabinet office inquiry into his conduct which kicked off when journalist and Tory activist Kate Maltby wrote for the Times about her uncomfortable encounters with him. Thirty years her senior and institutionally vastly her superior, the attentions she described appeared to her as an offer of advancement in exchange for sexual access. Green continues to say he does not recognise the events described in the article.

Though the cabinet office declared itself unable to make a definitive conclusion, it found Maltby’s account “plausible”. Indeed, Maltby was able to provide plenty of evidence that she’d disclosed her misgivings about Green long before she decided to come forward publicly (as reported by Ros Urwin in the Evening Standard). But it wasn’t Maltby’s allegations that did for Green, and nor was it the renewed stories about pornography found on his House of Commons computer during a 2008 police investigation – in her letter, May expresses concern about the breach of confidentiality by retired Met staff, but none whatsoever about the fact of porn in her workplace. In his resignation letter, Green maintained he did not download or view the porn found on his computer. 

Things can be complicated, as I’m sure May understands from the perspective of her spaghetti tangle of a professional life. Sometimes your longtime political ally and friend turns out to have broken the ministerial code. Sometimes former police officers reveal things they strictly shouldn’t, but in the process, uncover some deeply concerning albeit non-criminal activities. (And if any men are feeling the twitch of a hot take defending access to hardcore at the nine-to-five: DM me your office address, and I’ll be right over to wallpaper your cubicle in H. R. Geiger’s Penis Landscape, and then we’ll see how professional you feel.)

Instead, Green’s downfall was in the “inaccurate and misleading” statements he made on two occasions, claiming that he hadn’t been informed about the grot on his hard drive when in fact he had. So where does this leave the greater issue of powerful men’s attitude to women in politics, and specifically the Tory party? The answer to that is – nowhere much. The outcome of seven weeks of inquiry, speculation, leak and counter-leak is that a man is rightly out of office, but none of the issues that forced his downfall have been held up to any serious scrutiny. Jess Philips’s questions to the PM remain unanswered. Like I said: complicated.

The days since Maltby’s Times article was published have not been glorious ones for the Conservative Party’s feminist reputation. I understand that Maltby received no institutional support from the party during the inquiry, and no contact from her constituency Conservative party; only two Tory MPs (Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen) have publicly called for Green to step aside during the investigation. May’s letter to him has more to say about her own sadness at being pressed to this necessity than she does about the problem of male politicians creating a hostile environment for women.

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None of this is good enough. If Labour’s paradox is a will to increase female presence in parliament without giving them a shot at the top jobs, the Conservatives have an equal blight: celebrating and supporting their female successes, but requiring the sternest kind of exceptionalism from them. For young women considering a career in politics, what lessons are there here? For going on the record about her perceptions of Green, Maltby has received the grand reward of a monstering in the Mail from “friends” of Green, and no internal back-up from her party. A rational conclusion would be that female ambition can find better homes elsewhere.

The cabinet office inquiry is over, but the issues exposed by #metoo are nowhere near done. Women in politics have a right to know that their parties will be there for them; across the benches, they should be able to rely on the same support from each other that Phillips gave Maltby. The exit of Green from his post should not be mistaken for closure. To do so would be almost as egregious as mixing up a hand with a tablecloth.