Thursday 2 November 2017

The Problem with Gavin Williamson

And so revelations of sexual harassment and wrongdoing have claimed their first Westminster scalp. In his interview with Laura Kuennsberg, "Handbags" Fallon said he decided to resign because his conduct was unbecoming for someone occupying his lofty office. And so now the former defence secretary ceases being Theresa May's useful idiot, and merely becomes a plain old idiot. Meanwhile in an unsubtle prep for a leadership run, Gavin Williamson has waltzed in and, according to seasoned Westminster watchers, appointed himself the new boss of the MOD. And this has hit the Tory gullet like the proverbial cup of cold sick. "Unbelievable. Ludicrous. Astonishing." is one of the politest reactions his appointment has elicited. "He's out of the shitstorm. Knifed Fallon and pinched his job. It's way above his ability." remarked another. Looks like Theresa May is on to a winner, then. But wait, as the gossip circuit is alive with speculation about who's going back to the back benches Williamson could be Deputy PM by the end of the week.

The only good war is a Tory war. As blue rises against blue and does battle for the stinking corpse of a declining party, it's difficult to not be moved by the spectacle as it unfolds. Moved to smiles, glee, schadenfreude. Their selfish, decadent politics have laid them low, the vanity and opportunism of its leading lights fracturing and dispersing all senses of loyalty and discipline. It doesn't matter what the soundtrack is. Brexit, self-evidently stupid policies, affairs, harassment, the musical chairs of high office will always attract a plethora of arses. And not a few backsides.

Put aside the gripes and the whingeing that he hasn't got experience. The problem with Gavin Williamson is so utterly obvious that you'd have to be Gavin Williamson to not notice it. Dirt on old Handbags have variously circulated around Westminster for years, so it would be shocking if he wasn't on the spreadsheet leaked early this week. But when you look at the list, it's a strange mix. You have details of who's shagging who and MPs coming on to other MPs interspersed with claims of impropriety and harassment, which could theoretically lead to police action. While qualitatively different acts as far as most normal people would be concerned, for the whip's office they're all the same. In the game of Westminster, they are problems to be managed and leverage to be used.

And here lies Williamson's difficulty. He was Dave's bag carrier for three years and did the Francis Urquhart cosplay thing for 18 months, where he had much fun screwing over Boris Johnson (to be fair, who wouldn't?). In his time he sat on some serious shit. He was at the heart of a regime that received reports of "handsy" MPs and did nothing about them. This means there are serious culpability issues here. Williamson's inaction has maintained a culture where the harassment of staff and the attendant abuses of office were not taken seriously, except as grist to the factional mill. Never mind the contempt in which he his held by the rest of the Parliamentary party, Williamson's complicity in the eruption of scandals makes his position utterly untenable.


Ben Philliskirk said...

Outside of 'House of Cards', how many whips have advanced to the higher cabinet and leadership roles in their parties? I'd guess very few, and I'd suggest that unless this man can blackmail the entire Tory membership, he's likely to have reached the pinnacle of his parliamentary career.

Roger McCarthy said...

Edward Heath.

Anonymous said...

John Major was an assistant whip for two years. He also had an affair with Edwina Currie that apparently nobody knew about.