THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE

If Jacob Rees Mogg is a 60-year-old eighteenth century gentleman trapped in the body of a 48-year-old twenty-first century politician, Gavin Williamson is…well…what? Doubtless few of us had heard of the MP who was the Tory Chief Whip until today, though we may have picked up stories of the anonymous Westminster resident who keeps a pet tarantula in his Commons office to manufacture a Bond Villain image worthy of former Machiavellian veterans like Peter Mandelson; yes, that’s him. I saw a photo of this prat earlier; he’s only 41, but he has the gait of a much older man despite possessing the same oddly unnerving boyish countenance that made Michael J Fox cute in his 20s and a bit creepy-looking once he reached his 40s.

Williamson is now Defence Secretary, a speedy promotion for someone with no previous Ministerial experience, and one that has apparently left a few more seasoned Cabinet colleagues a tad miffed at being passed over following Michael Fallon’s resignation. Let’s face it, though; it’s not as if Theresa May had an outstanding talent pool from which to select a successor – and she owed Williamson a favour, what with him having organised her campaign to replace David Cameron last year (is it only last year?) and playing a key part in buying DUP favours in the aftermath of the General Election. One of Williamson’s motivations in offering his services as May’s campaign manager during the leadership race following the EU Referendum result was an avowed intent to prevent Boris grabbing the keys to No.10; Williamson’s sudden promotion is therefore bound to make a few Ministers more than a little uncomfortable. He could well have an eye on the top job himself.

The office of Chief Whip is especially important to the governing party at times such as these, and though it’s not traditionally regarded as a stepping-stone to greater things, we shouldn’t forget Ted Heath held the post under both Eden and Macmillan. And whereas Cabinet reshuffles are straightforward enough in normal circumstances, these are not normal circumstances; the PM’s position has been perilous ever since June 9 and her authority has been so undermined by running a minority administration (let alone persistent leaks to the media by those with an eye on her job) that it’s taken a high-profile resignation to force her hand. Had she been able to command any sort of authority, Boris wouldn’t still be Foreign Secretary, for one thing.

Gavin Williamson appears to have opted for a tarantula over a sports-car as a means of solving his midlife crisis, though this cultivation of the unusual as a presumed attempt to make himself moderately interesting contrasts with his predecessor’s determined and – until this week – successful efforts at portraying himself as terminally dull. If there are no more ‘revelations’ to emerge from Michael Fallon’s closet, I find it hard to believe his sole reason for resigning was a drunken fumble over a decade ago, particularly when the recipient of his wandering hands herself regards that reason as ridiculous. Williamson’s predecessor clearly regarded his behaviour fifteen years ago as unsuitable for holding a leading Ministerial job in 2017, yet perfectly suitable for remaining a Tory MP; maybe as long as his constituents don’t mind the fact he once touched Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee, he no longer has to consider the outrage of the rest of the electorate.

Although his name will forever be linked with a sex scandal, it’s worth remembering John Profumo resigned as Minister for War (the more honest title that preceded Secretary of State for Defence) because he lied to the Commons over his affair with Christine Keeler; that was regarded as far more unforgivable amongst his peers than the actual affair with a prostitute dividing her favours between Profumo and a Russian spy. Ten years after Profumo’s resignation, another Tory MP, Antony ‘Lord’ Lambton quit as a Junior Minister following an exposé by the News of the World that he also paid for the company of ladies (photos were forthcoming).

Exactly ten years after that, the revelation that Margaret Thatcher’s Trade and Industry Secretary Cecil Parkinson had impregnated his secretary Sarah Keays provoked another resignation, though Parkinson’s apparent disregard for his illegitimate daughter – who has learning disabilities – in the years thereafter should cast a far more malignant shadow across his questionable character than the affair that led to her conception. As for John Major’s motley Ministers – where to start? Another post, perhaps.

When placed next to these scandals, Michael Fallon’s activities seem very lightweight indeed, even if they uphold the belief that any scandal leading to a resignation when the Tories are in power is sex-related whereas with Labour it’s always money-related (John Prescott’s loose zip not withstanding). Maybe it’s an indication of how seriously the morose (ex) Minister takes himself that he views what he did as being on a par with Profumo, Parkinson and Lambton; then again, it could just be a depressing reflection of how times have changed and how even the most innocuous of ‘sexual assaults’ can inspire such vociferous online ‘off with his head’ hysteria that the accused has no option but to walk the plank.

© The Editor

2 thoughts on “THE FIRST LINE OF DEFENCE

  1. Whilst none of the ‘sinning’ politicians have done anything different from what many ‘suits’ have always done in the corporate world, their most condemning failing is in their failure to adhere to the standards which they profess to expect in others. Shades of John Major’s ‘Back to Basics’, when he himself had been getting very basic with Edwina Currie for quite some time.

    The other issue is that of the blackmail potential. Any minister, or even any MP, who is concealing some current or past secret which, if revealed, he/she would find discomforting, is thus open to inappropriate influence from anyone who has acquired knowledge of that ‘secret’. Apart from lying in the House, that was the real killer issue behind the Profumo scandal, particularly sensitive when it’s the War/Defence Minister, like the fast-fallen Fallon.

    Human nature is such that extra-curricular ‘cross-jostling’ will still continue in and around Parliament, irresistible hormones are not to be denied their outlet, but the players will just need to be even smarter about keeping the facts, if not their body parts, under wraps hereafter. From my corporate experience, that’s almost impossible to achieve, no matter how smart you think you are being – the secretary and chauffeur networks know everything, always have, always will, so the smartest ones at least try to keep those agents sweet.

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    1. From what I can remember, Jim Hacker seemed to pick up most of his info from his driver, who was on chattering terms with all the other ministerial drivers, so that certainly holds true.

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