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Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson: Meteoric rise of the baby-faced assassin

By Peter Madeley | South Staffordshire | Politics | Published:

Gavin Williamson's rise through the Cabinet ranks has been nothing short of meteoric.

Having been first elected as the MP for South Staffordshire in 2010, replacing Lord Patrick Cormack, Mr Williamson has undergone a whirlwind ride to the role of Defence Secretary.

The 41-year-old's latest promotion comes just 14 months after he was appointed Chief Whip by Theresa May, who he had backed in the turbulent Conservative leadership campaign that followed David Cameron's resignation in the wake of the EU referendum.

Mr Williamson ran Mrs May's parliamentary campaign, seeing off the challenge of Boris Johnson among others, having previously served as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Mr Cameron.

He has been a loyal servant to Mrs May and a central figure in her inner circle. In turn, the Prime Minister has backed his ascent at every step.

Born and raised in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, by Labour-supporting parents, Williamson went to a local comprehensive school and sixth form college before taking a science degree at the University of Bradford.

He worked in the pottery trade and cut his teeth on the shop floor of the factories of Stoke-on-Trent.

There he became known as the 'baby-faced assassin', a nod to his boyish looks and his ability to make tough and often unpopular decisions.

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Between 2011 and 2013 he held two PPS jobs, firstly to Northern Ireland Minister Hugo Swire, and then to Cannock born Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin.

He was still relatively unknown during his time as Mr Cameron's PPS, but all the time in Tory circles he was building a stellar reputation for loyalty and reliability.

The role is often seen as a useful staging post for a backbencher seeking ministerial office, but rarely have holders of the position been elevated quite so swiftly into one of the most senior posts in the Cabinet.

Gavin Williamson

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Known to be fiercely ambitious, the double blow of his boss losing the referendum and his subsequent resignation left him feeling 'glum' and unsure of where to turn, he told the Express & Star in an interview in 2016.

But he swiftly regrouped and offered his services as the man Mrs may could trust to propel her into Number 10.

"Everyone told me I was wrong and that she couldn't possibly win, but I sensed the mood of the country. People were looking for someone who is a serious politician who can make tough decisions in challenging times," he said at the time.

"I just knew instinctively that she was the one."

Despite having backed Remain in the EU referendum, he swiftly became an advocate of the 'Brexit means Brexit' mantra, and in doing so gained the respect of colleagues on both sides of the argument.

Eurosceptic Stone MP Bill Cash described him as 'very perceptive' and 'very good at grasping the main issues'.

He will be a hard act to follow in the Whips office, where he has ruled with an iron fist (with a little help from his pet tarantula Cronos).

Highly respected by colleagues - and feared by opponents - Mr Williamson steadied the Tory ship during a period where it could easily have capsized.

He leaves behind an enviable record, having never lost a vote on Government business.

It was his work behind the scenes that led to the relatively smooth passage of Article 50, and he also played a pivotal role in striking the deal with the DUP.

His success in the position flummoxed many outsiders, who could not see how the softy spoken family man who attends his daughter's ballet recitals could be so ruthless in the world of politics.

He gave an insight into his approach to the role during a speech to this year's Conservative Party conference.

Mr Williamson said: "I don't like to use a stick but it is amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot."

Now he has moved into a position where the level of scrutiny on him will be ramped up another notch.

The sex scandal engulfing Parliament is not something that is likely to go away anytime soon.

Questions will be asked about how much Mr Williamson knew about the allegations, and whether he could have informed the Prime Minister sooner.

He succeeds Michael Fallon at the Ministry of Defence at an intensely difficult time.

A bilateral meeting with US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in on the horizon, while crucial procurement decisions have to be made in the coming months.

His appointment has not gone down well with everyone, but many of his colleagues believe he has the ability to take it all in his stride. West Midlands Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi, said: "He is a very, very clever man who will do a fantastic job."

It is hard to believe that it was only four years ago when he was reprimanded in the House of Commons by Speaker John Bercow, who told the then PPS that his job was to 'fetch and carry notes – no noise required'.

Now Mr Williamson holds one of the most senior positions in Government.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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