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Westminster scandal? You couldn’t make it up

So, imagine you're a top political author like, say, Mi..

So, imagine you're a top political author like, say, Michael Dobbs or Jeffrey Archer.

You go to your publisher and say: "I've got a great plot for my latest novel. It goes like this…

"The Deputy Prime Minister – the PM's closest ally – is accused of sexual harassment and it's claimed there was 'extreme' pornography on his computer.

"The Foreign Secretary has complicated a political prisoner's life by giving wrong information to a committee of MPs about what she was doing in Iran.

"Another Cabinet minister went to see the Israeli Prime Minister and other top officials while she was on her summer holiday, as you do, without telling the Foreign Office or Number 10.

"The Defence Secretary has quit after touching a female journalist's knee, 'lunging' at another female scribbler and allegedly making lewd comments to a female Cabinet colleague…"

The publisher interrupts: "No, no, this is all too far-fetched. No one will believe any of this could happen."

But you're not finished, not by a long way.

"There's more! There's more!" you protest. "That's not all."

"There are seven Tory MPs accused of behaving inappropriately. One's being referred to police. Another is a gynaecologist accused of putting his hand up women's skirts.

"And a Government whip called Pincher – yes, Pincher! – is accused of making unwanted sexual advances to a 6ft 8in male Olympic rower."

By now the publisher is laughing so much they're in pain.

"Stop! Stop!" they scream. "This is ridiculous. None of this is credible. Go away. Get out of my office."

You protest again: "But I haven't even mentioned the minister and the sex toys yet.

"Or a 76-year-old left-wing Labour MP who is accused of sending flirty texts to a young woman activist…"

:: Westminster scandal: Who is accused of what?

Image:Is Westminster currently playing out a farce?

Unbelievable? If you thought after the EU referendum, Donald Trump's victory and June's general election that politics couldn't get any more unpredictable, think again.

For Theresa May, her plight goes from bad to worse – and then to perilously close to terminal.

How much longer can the current catalogue of political disasters continue before the game's up for her?

Last week, Conservative MPs were comparing the terrible Tory turmoil over Brexit and now "Pestminster" to John Major's troubles over Maastricht, "Back to Basics" and the ministerial sex scandals of the 1990s.

But at least the Major government soldiered on for five years, from 1992-97.

Now MPs are comparing 2017 with the demise of Harold Macmillan's government in 1962-63, triggered by the Profumo scandal.

The only difference is that Mrs May is too weak to carry out a "Night of the Long Knives" as Macmillan did and sack sleazy or incompetent ministers.

Another comparison now being made by many MPs is that the sexual harassment scandal is potentially even more serious than the expenses scandal of 2009, although fewer MPs are involved, admittedly.

But while a lot of the current political plot is pure farce, some of it is deadly serious.

Remarks made to a Commons committee by Boris Johnson may add years to Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe's prison sentence sentence, campaigners are claiming.
Video:Boris Johnson's words may increase woman's jail term

Many MPs say Boris Johnson's buffoonery and blunders are no longer a joke and his gaffe about political prisoner Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has at best complicated her legal case, at worst put her life in grave danger.

No wonder Labour MPs, led by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry and the Ratcliffes' local MP Tulip Siddiq, have demanded Mr Johnson's resignation or his dismissal by the Prime Minister.

Fat chance, though.

At least Priti Patel was hauled into 10 Downing Street for a reprimand after it was revealed she met Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli government figures on her summer holiday.

One can imagine the conversation when Mrs May met the Israeli PM in Downing Street last week: "Hello, Theresa. That nice young woman in your Government, Priti Patel, came to see me in Jerusalem during the summer."

"What?!" the PM might have exclaimed.

Now Number 10 has revealed: "The Prime Minister has met with the secretary of state and reminded her of her obligation which exists under the ministerial code."

Ah yes, the ministerial code! It's taking quite a beating at the moment, what with Cabinet Office inquiries into the Damian Green harassment and porn allegations and into International Trade minister Mark Garnier and his sex toys.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman was forced to answer questions about why Mrs May hasn't sacked Ms Patel.

Rather lamely, he said the PM has full confidence in both Mr Johnson and Ms Patel.

Video:New complaints system amid Westminster scandal

Later, Mrs May tried to get on the front foot amid the various crises engulfing her Government by calling the other party leaders to a meeting to agree moves to tackle Westminster's sex pests and workplace bullies.

But critics will claim a working group to set up a new grievance procedure and upgrade an existing complaints hotline to a face-to-face human resources service is a pretty feeble response.

They should put the Labour MP Jess Phillips on their working group.

Delivering her verdict on the PM's meeting, she said: "Find this utterly disappointing. Great, a grievance procedure – the victims will be thrilled. What if they don't work in Parliament?

"What about sanctions, what about specialist support from actual professionals who know what they are talking about on sexual violence/harassment.

"So if you don't work in Parliament and an MP assaults you, or MP's staff does. How will this help?"

How, indeed? Mrs May risks looking as flat-footed in her response to this sex scandal as Gordon Brown was to expenses.

And she's a vicar's daughter, after all! Who better to clean up Parliament?

Still think it's unbelievable. You'd better believe it.

Now, where's my publisher's phone number?

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