A slithering python who failed the grade: HENRY DEEDES bids a welcome goodbye to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson
Exit the schemer. Gavin Williamson was the gormless- looking minister whose boyish smirk and Frank Spencer voice has always belied a more shadowy nature.
Regarded as distinctly untrustworthy by both colleagues and opponents, he glides through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster the way a python slithers around the jungles of Borneo.
Following the exams fiasco – and a supine capitulation to unions over reopening schools after lockdown – the 45-year-old’s sacking as Education Secretary yesterday was, on the face of it, inevitable. Yet it’s been said that successive PMs have been too scared of ruffling Gav’s tousled curls.
Exit the schemer. Gavin Williamson was the gormless- looking minister whose boyish smirk and Frank Spencer voice has always belied a more shadowy nature
After all, here is a man who never tires of reminding colleagues that he ‘knows where the bodies were buried’. To quote Lyndon Johnson – who said it of J Edgar Hoover – Boris thought it better to have Williamson ‘p***ing out of the tent than p***ing in’. Until now.
For such a calculating figure, one might have thought that Gavin enjoyed one of those mysteriously vague careers with impressive credentials. In fact, prior to becoming MP for Staffordshire in 2010, he was manager of fireplace firm Elgin & Hall.
His subsequent rise up Parliament’s slippery pole has fascinated colleagues, who marvelled at his ability to switch allegiances speedier than slurry off a shovel.
He once vowed Johnson would never get the top job as long as Gav was around – yet wily Williamson ended up running his leadership campaign.
Regarded as distinctly untrustworthy by both colleagues and opponents, he glides through the corridors of the Palace of Westminster the way a python slithers around the jungles of Borneo
Under Theresa May he ran the whips’ office, where colleagues likened him to Francis Urquhart in Michael Dobbs’s political satire House Of Cards. Dobbs even gave him a copy of his book with the inscription: ‘This is a work of fiction, not instruction.’ Despite not knowing a cruiser from a carrier, he was promoted to Defence Secretary. He set moustaches twitching after the Salisbury poisonings by telling the Russians to ‘go away and shut up’.
Those loose lips are said to have got him sacked during the Huawei hoo-haa over Britain’s 5G network – although he denied being the source of a leak about the deal.
He didn’t lurk on the sidelines for long, as Boris soon rewarded him with the education brief.
Yet rather than any political legacy, it is Gavin’s taste in pets that seem most likely to live long in the memory. Always desperate to portray himself as a Cabinet enforcer, he kept a tarantula on his desk called Cronus – after the Greek god who devoured his own children.
Sadly, Gav’s eight-legged friend departed for that great cobweb in the sky some time ago. After yesterday, it appears his master’s career is dead too.
Chopped! How Dominic Raab the karate kid was a casualty of war: HENRY DEEDES’ not-so-fond farewell to the Foreign Secretary
When Dominic Raab gets cross, that furrowed forehead of his tends to throb. His jaw tightens and his eyes flare like filament lightbulbs.
We saw plenty of that as he marched into Downing Street yesterday to be told he was being shunted from the Foreign Office to the dusty old Ministry of Justice.
Oooh he looked cross. A martial arts black belt, I wouldn’t be surprised if the super-fit 47-year-old gave his desk a fierce karate chop later on at his new department.
Ignominious as Mr Raab’s exit may be, it will elicit little sympathy following his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.
As the Taliban advanced on Kabul, he inexplicably chose to remain at a luxury hotel in Crete rather than return home to hit the telephones to Afghan politicians on behalf of stranded British nationals and Afghan interpreters now in fear for their lives.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab, when at Oxford, where he won a blue for boxing
Nor will his exit be much lamented at the Foreign Office. Judging by some of the gamey briefings against him hailing from there these past few weeks, there may have been a bottle or two of blanc de blancs popping along Whitehall last night.
It all comes as a bitter blow to a fiercely driven individual who until now has known largely only success.
The son of Czech immigrants, he started out at Linklaters, the top City law firm known for paying Premier League-style salaries.
A stint in the Foreign Office followed, where he helped prosecute war criminals.
He won the Parliamentary seat for Esher in 2010, having cut his political teeth working as chief of staff to David Davis.
He was, by all accounts, a demanding taskmaster but for all his obvious strengths, Raab has always lacked a certain human touch. This would in part explain why his leadership campaign after Theresa May’s blubbery exit from No 10 never even got lift-off.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab walks outside the FCDO in London
Despite decent backing within the party, his speeches went down like a stale pilchard. ‘Dull’ was the verdict I heard muttered over and over by grassroots members.
When the Prime Minister was rushed into ICU with Covid last year, his de facto deputy’s rabbit-in-the-headlights appearance on TV hardly inspired confidence among a jittery electorate.
However, colleagues insist Raab performed his stand-in duties admirably. His reward was to be given charge of the Department for International Development in an expanded Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Members of the British and US military engaged in the evacuation of people out of Kabul, Afghanistan
As the Raab empire increased, so did his stock in Westminster. That all came unstuck in August when he opted for a few days more in the Med over a return to the FO. A tetchy performance in front of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee later sealed his fate.
Loath to fall out with anyone, Boris has embellished Raab with the title of Deputy Prime Minister. But it is a sop to a man whose ambition instils in him a belief he deserves so much more.
As the new Deputy PM departed Downing Street yesterday, a reporter cried out: ‘How does it feel to be the next Nick Clegg?’
Once again, the Raab forehead pulsed. It was a disparaging denouement to a demeaning day.
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