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COMMENT: From high flyer to a ‘fall guy’ for Gavin Williamson

By Pete Madeley | South Staffordshire | Opinions | Published:

Political editor Peter Madeley looks at the fallout from Gavin Williamson’s sacking.

Mr Williamson always had a busy schedule as Defence Secretary

If Gavin Williamson’s rise up the political ladder has been rapid, his fall from grace has been even swifter.

A one-time contender for Theresa May’s job, the South Staffordshire MP has now seemingly been dumped on the political scrapheap by the Prime Minister he helped to elect in the 2016 Tory leadership battle.

After months of Cabinet leaks and ministers publicly opposing Government policy, 42-year-old Mr Williamson appears to have been the fall guy for this most dysfunctional of Conservative administrations.

Once considered one of Mrs May’s closest allies, his sacking can be seen as the final act in a relationship that has gradually eroded over the last 12 months.

He remains hugely popular among Conservative members and MPs across the Black Country and Staffordshire, but where he turns to now remains to be seen.

Gavin Williamson and Theresa May were once considered allies

First elected in 2010, Mr Williamson’s path to the top started when he became a PPS to David Cameron in 2013.

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Following Mr Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the EU referendum, he threw his weight behind Mrs May’s leadership ambitions, running her parliamentary campaign and being rewarded with the role of Chief Whip.

Gavin Williamson, right, outside the Ministry of Defence in London after he was named as the new Secretary of State for Defence in 2017

He quickly developed a reputation as a man not to be messed with, famed for keeping a pet tarantula on his desk and never losing a single vote of consequence during 16 months in the job.

He also became known as a shrewd operator, with many suggesting he manoeuvred himself into the position of Defence Secretary in November 2017 after Sir Michael Fallon stepped down.

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His reign at the Ministry of Defence saw him become a staunch defender of the armed forces, battling for more cash to increase troop numbers in the face of a reluctant Treasury and an antagonistic Chancellor in Philip Hammond.

Gavin Williamson meets members of The Royal Welsh in Estonia

He warned of the dangers posed by China and Russia, often infuriating both nations, most notably when he said Russia should “shut up and go away”.

He also became known for the occasional gaffe, becoming the first minister to be heckled by his own phone in the Commons and receiving a telling-off for taking photos in the House.

Other stories appeared to be designed to sully his reputation, such as the claim that he suggested mounting guns on tractors as makeshift missile launchers.

Mr Williamson enjoys a ride in an RAF fighter jet

Over time he has shifted his position on Brexit. Having campaigned to Remain, he immediately accepted the referendum result and in recent months has extolled the virtues of a so-called ‘hard Brexit, claiming the UK would be able to flourish under any sort of departure from the EU.

It is this alignment with Brexiteer opponents of the Prime Minister, as well as the way he ran his department, that have perhaps seen his strained relationship with Mrs May finally break.

He is adamant that the motive behind his sacking was “purely political”, with he and Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill known to not exactly see eye-to-eye.

Mr Williamson told the Star: “The Prime Minister offered me the chance to resign or to be sacked and I explained to her I was not going to resign for something that I nor any of my staff had done.

“If the Prime Minister wants to look for a scapegoat, that’s her prerogative. I made it very clear that she had sacked someone who was not responsible for the leak.”

One thing we can say about Mr Williamson is that he is a fighter. He has proved that he is a dab hand at reinventing himself and creating a new political narrative.

His enemies may have won this particular scrap, but it would be foolish to rule him out just yet.

Pete Madeley

By Pete 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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