The Harvey Weinstein cesspit opening up about sex allegations hasn’t been contained to Hollywood. It’s now affecting Westminster politics too.
Prime Minister Theresa May already saw her Defence Secretary Michael Fallon take the high road after admitting his behaviour had been “below the high standards we require”.
And persistent rumours about various other MPs might trigger a series of by-elections that could make the government’s position even less stable.
All of this could have grave consequences for Theresa May’s position and the Brexit negotiations.
“If you could have listed the things which might threaten the delivery of Brexit last year, you wouldn’t have included sexual allegations against a Hollywood movie producer,” writes Ian Dunt on Politics.co.uk.
But it’s not just the Weinstein scandal that’s leading to a lot of political intrigue. Other information getting out in the open is threatening Trump’s government too.
Netflix may have cancelled the final series of its political drama series House of Cards because of the sex scandal…
But the real-life versions in Westminster and Washington may be working towards their series finale.
(Dis)information is power
“The most valuable commodity I know of is information,” says Gordon Gekko in the film Wall Street.
The past weeks have demonstrated the power of information (and disinformation) once more.
Washington is currently trying to establish to what extent the spread of ‘fake news’, allegedly coming from Russian sources, influenced last year’s US presidential election.
A wave of sexual harassment allegations have knocked Hollywood producers and actors off their pedestals and put Westminster politicians under investigation.
The British government is trying to keep its Brexit impact papers away from the public eye for fear it’ll damage its negotiating position in the Brexit talks.
And the Paradise Papers, the sequel to the 2015 Panama Papers, threaten to further destabilise the US government.
These documents show how the rich shelter their wealth and reveal shady financial links between Russia and US companies and politicians.
With Netflix cancelling House of Cards it seems there’s still plenty of political drama to look forward to!
How does it affect Washington?
The government of President Trump is in trouble. Again.
This time because journalists have got hold of 13.4 million leaked files that show how corporations and wealthy individuals keep their money away from the tax man.
After last year’s Panama Papers, which embarrassed then Prime Minister David Cameron, this year’s revelations are called the Paradise Papers.
But this time (for the time being) it’s not the UK politicians that have explaining to do. It’s putting the spotlight on Washington.
Trump’s commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has links to Russian companies currently under US sanctions. And he’s also in business with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law.
Not exactly the thing you want to come out at a time when Russia’s role in getting your administration elected is being investigated.
Another thing the documents make clear is that US tech giants Facebook and Twitter got hundreds of millions of dollars in investments from the Russian state.
Awkward when these very companies are currently defending themselves against allegations they helped spread disinformation (coming from Russia) during the 2016 election.
The FBI already suspects various members of the president’s staff of dealings with Russia prior to the election.
This will only further call into question the legitimacy of the Trump administration.
How does it affect Westminster?
Nothing worrying for Theresa May has come out of the Paradise Papers (yet), though it will put more pressure on the PM to crack down on tax evasion.
Still, for May it’s the Westminster sex scandal that’s doing the damage. It’s threatening her position in different ways.
First of all, she’s lost a prominent cabinet minister in Michael Fallon.
When you’re losing support from your own MPs, with Tory rebels threatening to vote with the opposition on certain issues like the Brexit bill, that’s the last thing you need.
Then she messed up the opportunity to deal with this scandal in a satisfactory way when she promoted her chief whip.
The little-known Gavin Williamson is now the youngest ever Defence Secretary and doesn’t appear to have the experience or the credentials to lead the Armed Forces.
A Tory backbencher told the FT “it’s a disastrous appointment” and that many MPs believe it’s May’s “biggest and probably last mistake”.
And of course the number of MPs under investigation could lead to a series of by-elections.
Both the Conservative and Labour parties are hit by the scandal, but it’s still expected to hit the Conservatives more.
According to the Telegraph, no less than 36 Tory MPs could be implicated in the sexual harassment scandal.
Right now the government already has a wafer-thin majority, for which it depends on support from the Northern Irish DUP.
May could come even more at the mercy of the opposition if her power shrank any further. That is, if her government would survive these possible by-elections at all.
Labour appears to have a lead over the Conservatives in the polls with Jeremy Corbyn’s approval rates going up as Theresa May’s are plummeting.
So it looks like there’s going to be another few difficult months ahead for the Prime Minister.
Even in the best-case scenario for Theresa May in which all of this blows over, it will have wasted a lot of the government’s precious time and energy now that the Brexit talks are getting into a crucial stage.