Theresa May could be the ideal woman to lead the clean-up of Westminster | Andrew Rawnsley

However fragile her government, the prime minister must tackle this scandal without fear or favour

It is important to understand why Sir Michael Fallon is no longer secretary of state for defence. He went not because he placed an uninvited hand on the knee of a female journalist at a boozy party conference dinner 15 years ago. Julia Hartley-Brewer, the target of his unwanted advances, says that losing his seat in the cabinet would be a “ridiculous” penalty for that. Anyone with an IQ in double figures can twig that this is not why he quit. Nor did he go because he made a lewd remark to Angela Leadsom, though it didn’t help his cause when she brought this complaint to the prime minister’s inner circle when they were debating his fate. According to the most convincing accounts of the events that led to his departure, the prime minister had come to her own conclusion that he couldn’t remain in office. As she writes in the Observer today, the journalist Jane Merrick had been in touch with the prime minister’s office shortly before he quit, to tell them that Sir Michael had “lunged at” her.

So I’m doubtful whether “resign” is the correct word for his departure. This has the smell of a sacking dressed up to look like a resignation. There’s a clue in the cool tone of the letters that he exchanged with Theresa May. He expressed his “utmost admiration” for the armed forces and pledged to “support the government”; he said not a word in esteem of the prime minister and made no promise to continue to support her personally. He had not responded to Ms Merrick’s account at the time of writing. He has says other accusations against him are false.

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