Loss of a friend is PM’s worst Christmas present of all

As the orchestra reached its crescendo, Damian Green, peering down from a luxury box in the Royal Albert Hall, could have been forgiven for thinking he had the world at his feet.

Promoted to First Secretary of State in the June reshuffle, the de facto Deputy Prime Minister has a strong relationship with Theresa May dating back to their time as undergraduates at Oxford.

Green and the then Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, who was in the same box – they were guests of a lobbyist named Peter Bingle – joined the standing ovation at the end of Stravinsky’s Firebird.

But days later, Green became the highest-ranking politician at that time to be embroiled in the sex harassment scandal which swept through Westminster at the end of October.

Damian Green and Theresa May (pictured together yesterday) have a close relationship after they were both undergraduates at the University of Oxford

Kate Maltby, 32, an ambitious Conservative activist, alleged that Green, 61, a friend of her parents, had behaved inappropriately when they met for a drink in a pub in Waterloo two years ago.

While few at Westminster took the Maltby claims very seriously, they had lit a fuse under Green which was to destroy his Cabinet career.

First to go was Sir Michael Fallon, a fellow Kent MP, forced to quit as Defence Secretary after admitting attempting to kiss a woman journalist more than a decade earlier.

The exit of Fallon made Theresa May even more determined to hang on to Green, despite pressure from her chief of staff Gavin Barwell and chief whip Julian Smith to let him go. For Mrs May this wasn’t just about politics. Green was her oldest and closest friend in politics.

In their social group at Oxford was Green’s future wife Alicia, a lawyer, and Mrs May’s future husband Philip. The four remain close today – though quite how their relationships will stand this morning remains to be seen.

As the Prime Minister said in her letter to Green last night: ‘We have been friends and colleagues throughout our whole political lives.’

She will feel the loss of Damian Green particularly keenly. After the botched general election in June she had to dispense with her two special advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, who were blamed for the incompetent campaign.

In Green she saw a thoughtful, clever and above all loyal minister who had no ambitions to replace her, unlike most other members of the Cabinet. He was a key figure behind the scenes, chairing no fewer than nine Cabinet sub-committees.

Many Tory MPs thought Green would survive Sue Gray’s inquiry not just because of the friendship with the PM, but because every day he attended the daily 8.30am strategy meetings, he sat opposite the PM in Cabinet and last week represented Mrs May at the Privy Council meeting hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Only yesterday, he was in his usual spot next to Mrs May in the Commons chamber for the last Prime Minister’s Questions of the year. ‘The PM visibly relaxes when Damian is in the room,’ said one senior Tory last night. ‘She will miss him terribly. There is no new Damian waiting in the wings.’

Green is straight out of the mould of the Theresa May-style Tory. He was born in Barry, South Wales, went to a grammar school in Reading and studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford.

Mr Green (pictured on Wednesday) became the highest-ranking politician at that time to be embroiled in the sex harassment scandal which swept through Westminster in October

Mr Green (pictured on Wednesday) became the highest-ranking politician at that time to be embroiled in the sex harassment scandal which swept through Westminster in October

He was moderately successful in financial journalism before winning the safe seat of Ashford and becoming an MP in 1997 – the same year as Mrs May.

Always on the wet side of the Tory Party, he was a consistently pro-EU MP. In the Tory leadership contest in 2005, he backed David Davis – now the Brexit Secretary and an ardent supporter of Leave – despite their strong differences on Europe. Davis fought hard to keep Green, to no avail.

Green had been promoted to the Tory front bench by David Cameron and after the coalition government was formed in 2010 he became immigration minister and then police minister – under Mrs May as Home Secretary.

Cameron sacked him in 2014, to make way for younger blood. Green sought to reinvent himself as a party strategist, which encouraged Mrs May to see him as a replacement this year for the departed Nick Timothy. Because of his financial background, Green dreamed of becoming Chancellor. But Mrs May had other plans.

He was the obvious person to lead her praetorian guard inside Downing Street. After the botched general election, she made him First Secretary of State based in the Cabinet Office.

It is a job which made him as near to a deputy prime minister as he could be without actually having the job itself.

Given his competence and experience, she knew Green could reach out across the Tory Party and also watch her back.

But now he’s gone, a victim of his own misfortune, and after a period of time when Mrs May has rediscovered some of her authority, she will be feeling more vulnerable than at any time since the dark days following the general election.

One of the key figures who persuaded her to fight on then was, of course, Damian Green. Which is why this is positively the worst Christmas present the PM could have wished for.


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