I must admit, it is hard to attribute anything approaching a heroic act to a member of Theresa May’s Cabinet; one cannot avoid being suspicious and seeing self-promotion as the motivation behind every move made in public. ‘Will it help make me look good before the electorate and boost my impending leadership bid if I’m photographed alongside an autistic adolescent in pigtails who has somehow become the poster-girl for climate change?’ and so on. It’s so difficult not to be cynical about politicians today that even when one of them might actually have done something for purely selfless reasons, crediting them with it is a tough call tinged with suspicious reservations.
The sacking of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been officially justified because he was named as the source of the leak surrounding the National Security Council’s discussion over the Chinese Government’s telecommunications wing, Huawei, being invited to get its feet under the UK’s online table. Williamson denies this rather serious allegation whilst Jeremy Hunt has become the latest Minister to undermine the PM’s (non)authority by suggesting a police investigation wouldn’t be out of the question, contradicting Mrs May’s own decision not to pursue the matter beyond firing Williamson. If the ex-Defence Secretary is guilty, why did he do it when he must have realised the potential damage it could do to his political ambitions? Could it actually have been that extremely rare Westminster beast, a case of conscience over career?
Let’s face it, Gavin Williamson is not an easy man to warm to; then again, name me a member of the Cabinet who is. I know we’re all born with the face God gave us, but Williamson’s ego does seem to be etched on his smug countenance; I may be doing him a disservice, but to me he has the arrogant air of an office-worker celebrating promotion with a trip to a lap-dancing bar, where he probably waves a wad in a young lady’s face in expectation of a blowjob. His attempts to cultivate a Mandelson-like ‘Dark Arts’ image have been cringeworthy from the off. From his pet tarantula to his ‘ooh, you’re hard’ boast that he had ‘made’ Theresa May and could therefore just as easily ‘break’ her, Williamson’s role as the mastermind behind May’s leadership election and then organising the bribery of the DUP gave rise to his reputation as Kingmaker, and he appeared to be a man May couldn’t manage without – until now.
The Tory Chair of the Defence Select Committee, Dr Julian Lewis, was one Williamson ally speaking up for the deposed Minister last night. Dr Lewis pointed out that Williamson wasn’t the only member of the Cabinet to express reservations over the wisdom of awarding contracts to corporations answerable to a Communist regime not averse to keeping tabs on its citizens. Unsurprisingly for someone who has enthusiastically embraced any form of internet snooping since her days as Home Secretary, the PM was in favour of allowing Huawei to play a part in this country’s 5G network – something no other western leader has even contemplated; by all accounts, Williamson was appalled by this development and appears to have risked his role in Government (and possible rise all the way to the top job) by passing on his concerns to Fleet Street.
I would hesitate to call the information leaked a ‘sensitive state secret’; it appears to be more a case of where the information was leaked from – a body established during Cameron’s tenure, somewhere Ministers and officials could discuss clandestine topics free from the public gaze; and what could be more clandestine than offering the Chinese a chance to buy into Britain’s internet system? No wonder they wanted that one kept under wraps. But, as Julian Lewis rightly stated, the nature of the information Gavin Williamson is alleged to have leaked hardly places him in the same treasonous league as Kim Philby or George Blake. What Williamson has done – if indeed, he has done it – is to spill the beans on just how shamelessly willing our senior elected representatives are to flog anything to the highest bidder, free from any principles or sense of scruples; as long as they can make a mint from outsourcing, they’ll do it. Just look at who replaced ATOS with the contract for the notorious DWP disability assessments – an equally loathsome US corporation short on sympathy for the ill and infirm called Maximus; and the less said about Grayling’s ferry fiasco, the better. Should ISIS put in a bid to run all primary schools in England and Wales, they’d probably be in with a shot if their bid was juicy enough.
Williamson’s promotion from Chief Whip to Defence Secretary seemed to begin the process of his gradual detachment from the PM’s inner circle, especially when he became a tad prone to the odd gaffe and earned the nickname of ‘Private Pike’ among some of his less generous colleagues. If he was responsible for the NSC leak, it’s hard to see what he had to gain from his actions being uncovered other than alerting the rest of us to the seriously worrying shit that goes on behind closed doors at Downing Street, as opposed to the silly in-fighting and backstabbing we’re used to hearing about. And, if that was what happened, he deserves credit – however begrudgingly we give it him.
Another Tory MP, Adam Holloway, made a wider point in relation to Williamson last night, stating how he believed contemporary politicians just aren’t up to it, whatever the challenge presented to them might be. Ministers find themselves in positions of power they simply aren’t qualified to do justice to, lacking both leadership skills and any talent beyond generating sufficient hype around them in the manner of a band desperate for a record deal; how else can we explain so many ‘name’ MPs who have risen without a trace in the past decade? A former military man, Adam Holloway said most of the current Cabinet would be ‘very unlikely to rise to the rank of General’; it’s certainly hard looking across both benches in the Commons and seeing anyone with the heavyweight clout of a Benn or a Thatcher. Or perhaps past politicians were forged in different ages that deserved different leaders; despite the grimly serious issues facing the country, we appear to have reaped the harvest of the 90s, when style triumphed over substance in all facets of public life.
The fact a figure as friendless as Theresa May can fire someone who was once such a vital ally suggests the embarrassment of this particular leak must have been acute for the Prime Minister, even when one considers the Cabinet Office has shown itself to have the consistency of a sieve over the last couple of years. Williamson’s dramatic dismissal and possible breach of the Official Secrets Act may well be as ‘unprecedented’ as media folk kept claiming yesterday, but the leak is merely emblematic of a chaotic Cabinet environment with a grasp of authority reminiscent of St Trinian’s. The timing of this latest unwelcome headline from the PM’s perspective, on the very eve of possible obliteration in the local elections, suggests Williamson’s alleged crime is a little more serious than some that have resulted in sackings of late; but yet another enemy on the backbenches could be just one more nail in the Maybot coffin. Not all bad news, then.
© The Editor