It’s fast becoming apparent that May’s mini-reshuffle has been handled with her usual competence.
Sources inside the Tory party are suggesting that the appointment of Gavin Williamson, the former Whip, as Defence Secretary, is far more about Theresa May’s pitifully desperate personal weakness within the party, than it is about Williamson’s suitability for the role.
As several on Twitter have hinted, Williamson appears to have “appointed himself”, leveraging his position as Chief Whip against May’s weakness, to gain the job. If true, then it serves as a further humiliation for May who has already faced significant criticism for her handling of the ongoing harassment scandal.
One senior Tory MP went so far as to imply Williamson was part of the campaign to remove Fallon, allegedly saying that “he knifed him and nicked his job.”
This suggests that the leaked dossier may indeed have come from somewhere close to the Whip’s office.
Text from senior Tory MP about Gavin Williamson: "He's out of the shitstorm. Knifed Fallon and pinched his job. It's way above his ability."
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) November 2, 2017
Another MP said that Williamson was a ‘slimeball’, and that May had ‘gone mad’ in appointing him:
Minister tells me: "She's gone mad. It's real 'end of days' stuff. He's [Williamson] a real slimeball, w/ his own leadership team in place"
— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) November 2, 2017
Another simply said Williamson’s promotion was “Unbelievable. Ludicrous. Astonishing.”
"Unbelievable. Ludicrous. Astonishing": one backbench Tory's reaction to May's decision to make Gavin Williamson defence secretary.
— Heather Stewart (@GuardianHeather) November 2, 2017
The simple fact that the Whip – someone who has seemingly been compiling information on Michael Fallon’s alleged abusive behaviour – is now taking his job, is utterly breathtaking. It represents a clear conflict of interest and seems an utterly astounding appointment given the immense backlash it is likely to create.
Williamson’s appointment stands in significant contrast to what was expected from this morning’s rumours.
The role was said to be going to either Alan Duncan, who has industry ties, or Penny Mordaunt, who the BBC tipped this morning could take the vacant Defense Secretary position. Both were obvious choices given their previous significant ministerial experience, something Williamson lacked entirely.
However, Williamson seems a more obvious choice if May is looking for allies – something she desperately needs given her pitifully weak position. The new Defence Secretary previously ran May’s leadership campaign and has proven himself loyal over and over again. This combined with his ambition to become the next leader suggests May is prioritising her own survival over the parties.
Regardless, it is not a risk free choice. Whilst it helps shore up May’s Cabinet support it has ruled backbench MPs.
Furthermore, the fact that Williamson is alleged to have called May a ‘charisma-free bitch’ just over a year ago, will surely be used by opponents to drive a wedge between the two.
Theresa May's new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson allegedly called her a 'charisma-free bitch' just last year.https://t.co/fnHIjZTg1l
— Evolve Politics (@evolvepolitics) November 2, 2017
Williamson is also held in extremely poor regard by many of his colleagues. They regard him as a slippery individual and government toady who relishes his apparent reputation. His position has not been built on skill but, according to a Guardian profile, he built himself in the tearooms and bars, using information on indiscretions to move upwards within the party.
One figure fittingly likened Williamson’s appointment to the time Dick Cheney appointed himself Vice President after leading the search for a VP:
Gavin Williamson becoming defence secretary is like the time Dick Cheney was asked to pick George W Bush’s running mate and picked himself
— Tim Shipman (@ShippersUnbound) November 2, 2017
Ultimately it seems apparent that May is showing little sign of regaining any of her previous self-declared “strength”.
And, if the sources are correct, then she’s essentially been bullied into promoting a man with eyes on her job and no experience. She is facing down, to quote one source, “a shitstorm” and it is one she cannot weather.
Without strong leadership in place this scandal will only become more and more all consuming. If May does not act more decisively by Friday then she will likely be gone by Christmas.
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