Mr Goofy’s gone? The glee dripped out of every pore
Sees the Commons gloat over Williamson’s defenestration
THERE are some politicians who despite our confrontational parliamentary system remain universally liked. They’re congenial, allround good eggs.
Although some may disagree, I’m thinking of kindly walruses such as Father of the House Ken Clarke (Con – Rushcliffe) or jovial wind-up merchants like Stephen Pound (Lab – North Ealing).
Judging by the mood in the Commons yesterday, it’s safe to assume ex- defence secretary Gavin Williamson is held in no such regard.
Sure, the odd Gavin loyalist would have described him as a dedicated minister. Goofy rather than nasty. But the general consensus around is that he is a prize pillock.
Shorn of his ministerial epaulettes late on Wednesday after he was deemed to have leaked sensitive information from a National Security Council meeting, there was a piquant atmosphere when the subject of his dramatic defenestration was brought to the chamber via an urgent question from deputy Labour leader Tom Watson.
From opposition members, glee dripped out of every pore. On the government side, well, let us just say the atmosphere was far from funereal.
The Prime Minister’s PPS Andrew Bowie (Con - West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) toured the backbenches grinning and glad- handing colleagues like a trendy vicar buttering up his congregation. Make of that what you will.
Predictably, Theresa May chose not to attend. Dispatched in her stead was Cabinet Office Secretary David Lidington, who appeared surprisingly chipper considering the inevitable onslaught he faced. Lidders said the leak would not be referred to the police and having sacked Williamson, the PM ‘now considered the matter closed.’ Oh well, that’s that then. Not so fast, said Watson. The saga, according to Labour’s holier-than-thou deputy, was indicative of the ‘malaise and sickness’ at the heart of the Government. In what world should the PM be the arbiter of whether a criminal act had been committed?
UQs [Urgent Questions] are what these occasions are called – handed out far too generously by the Speaker, but Watson used this one effectively. Had it been Jeremy Corbyn squawking his usual attack lines (‘Resign!’ ‘Disgrace!’), few would have listened. Watson, by contrast, spoke in soft, articulate tones. This is the way to do damage.
All around the House, demands for Williamson to face criminal prosecution followed. Stewart McDonald (SNP – Glasgow South) said it wasn’t in the Prime Minister’s gift to declare the matter closed. ‘No ifs, no buts,’ said Anna Soubry (Change UK – Broxtowe). This was a matter for the rozzers. Philip Hollobone (Con – Kettering) asked if leaking information from the National Security Council was not a breach of the Official Secrets Act. There was a question from Sir Michael Fallon (Con – Sevenoaks) on whether Britain’s allies had been assured this ‘ sorry episode’ would not be repeated. Was there an air of schadenfreude in his tone? Fallon was replaced by Williamson after being forced to resign for getting a little over-amorous with a Westminster hackette.
Several Conservatives, though, felt Williamson had been hard done by.
Sir Edward Leigh (Con – Gainsborough) and Sir Desmond Swayne (Con – New Forest West) complained he’d been denied ‘ natural justice.’ Peter Bone (Con – Wellingborough) said Williamson had been dismissed far too hastily. He reminded the House of when Tory MP Andrew Mitchell fell after being accused of calling police officers ‘plebs’ during a row in Downing Street.
BOB Seely (Con – Isle of Wight) returned to the pertinent subject of Williamson’s leak, and the awarding of the 5G contract to Huawei, insisting the telecoms firm was effectively an arm of the Chinese state.
Au contraire, replied Lidington smoothly. He said it’s owned by its employees and therefore a private company. It’s very significant that ex-Army intelligence types such as Captain Bob maintain otherwise.
Afterwards, another urgent question followed on Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s latest boob – the £50million loss for cancelling contracts for extra ferries to bring in essential supplies in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
At some point over this Bank Holiday weekend, Gavin Williamson will doubtless ponder how he came to lose his boss’s confidence, while the hapless Transport Secretary still continues to enjoy her unwavering support. But that’s just modern politics.