Goodbye and good riddance to Gavin Williamson

Gavin Williamson has been sacked by Theresa May for leaking details about a plan to allow Huawei limited access to build the 5G network in the UK. Kate Bradley takes us through his worst moments.

Gavin Williamson with Jim Mattis, former US Secretary of Defense

This week, Gavin Williamson has finally been sacked by Theresa May from his position as Defence Secretary following a leak of a controversial decision taken at the Government’s National Security Council. The Security Council is chaired by the Prime Minister and contains senior ministers as well as security officials, and they recently agreed the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei could build parts of the UK’s 5G network. According to the BBC, Williamson apparently met with a journalist who leaked the story around the right time, and an investigation into him has revealed ‘compelling evidence’ that he was the source of the leak. Williamson swore on his ‘children’s lives’ that he did not leak the information. Given that Williamson had the position of Defence Secretary, which oversees the armed forces, perhaps children’s lives generally don’t mean much to him.

Whenever things like this happen, opponents of the Government have a choice of ways to respond. Do we celebrate the sacking, drawing attention to corruption and abuse of information in the Tory Party, but also upholding the logic of ‘national security’ and anti-transparency? Do we revel in the chaos, highlighting Tory incompetence and the instability of Theresa May’s cabinet, but also implying that a ‘strong and stable’ Tory government would be better? Do we ignore it and treat it as just the internal politicking of our enemies, banal and nothing to do with us, since the next Defence Minister will likely also be a self-interested bastard, but then lose out on gaining from the political traction of the issue?

There are pitfalls in all these approaches. But it might be worth highlighting some of Gavin Williamson’s most unpleasant politics, just so we can briefly celebrate his political demise. Williamson has only significantly dodged the Tory whip on two major issues, according to They Work For You: he voted against investigations into the Iraq War, which – as a party-political issue – Tories mostly voted for. (It’s ironic that he is so anti-transparency on principle for some issues.) Williamson has also generally voted against gay marriage, which in today’s changed political climate makes him socially conservative even in his own party. You can see more of his horrible opinions which are more in line with Tory policy here.

Williamson held the position of Chief Whip from 2016 to late 2017, during which time he was heavily involved in negotiating the confidence and supply deal with the DUP. He was also in that position at the time that the Tory ‘sex scandal’ emerged in the wake of #MeToo. Given that the leak revealed that the Chief Whip had held large amounts of information on individual MPs’ sexually predatory behaviour and done nothing about it, Williamson’s shift from Chief Whip to Defence Secretary on the day the scandal broke (after the resignation of Michael Fallon) was a lucky near-miss for Williamson, as it allowed him to evade scrutiny on his use of the ‘blacklist’. There have still been no serious repercussions for the Tory Party for the deliberate cover-up of the information, and some MPs have been allowed back into the party even after their wrong-doing was revealed.

Williamson has also been a vociferous defender of a continuous maintenance and renewal of nuclear weapons, saying ‘I firmly believe the world is a safer place because we have a nuclear deterrent’. Maintaining this deterrent costs around £2.2 billion a year, and replacing it (which is necessary to its maintenance due to developing technology and obsolescence) would cost at least £31 billion to procure, according to the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). Nuclear weapons are now strong enough to destroy the planet if a nuclear war were to take place – the threat of which apparently makes the world a ‘safer place’.

So it’s good to see Williamson gone. But the revolving door of politics will probably guide him into a new role soon.

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