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‘Events, dear boy, events’; Harold Macmillan, PM 1957-63

In 1964, Harold Wilson once said, reportedly, ‘a week is a long time in politics’. Last week’s momentous events would seem to confirm that maxim. In the space of 7 days, the Prime Minister received the resignation of his deputy chief whip, believed for a couple of days that he had weathered the subsequent storm, before resigning himself on 7th July. For some, the Prime Minister’s demise had been on the cards for some time, whilst for others there was still optimism that he would carry on.

How far the allegations about Chris Pincher’s behaviour at the Carlton Club were the final tipping point is debatable, but it is clear that it was the final issue of substance that aroused censure before the Prime Minister himself agreed to stand aside.

For safeguarders, it is instructive to follow the sequence of these events, as it holds clues as to how responses to allegations about abusive behaviour can be viewed on a continuum – from prompt resignation, minimisation and aiming to move on quickly to proper investigation and holding to account. Press reports have also focussed on what was already known in government circles and how Pincher came to be appointed to such a key post concerned with party discipline.

Survivors of church-based abuse, sadly, can often point to situations where there was already intelligence about concerning behaviour, and yet the alleged perpetrator’s actions were downplayed or contextualised in in an unhelpful way. They may not have been promoted, but were often moved away with no obvious consequence. Arguably, the people who make decisions about what to do next on first learning about a worrying matter, carry a great weight of responsibility. It will not always be obvious what to do and many factors will impact on their choice of direction. But act they must, and with a survivor first and zero tolerance policy, it should be possible to come to a defensible decision that will be broadly understood by all parties. A quick response suggesting that a resignation is the end of the matter will just not do.

Harold Macmillan once claimed that events blew his premiership off course. No doubt other events will take place during the coming (hot) week. We wait and see.

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