Gavin Williamson: An Innocent Man
One of the guilty men responsible for selling the Iraq War to the British people, is asking us to take him at face value when it comes to Gavin Williamson. Patrick Sullivan argues that Sir. Mark Sedwill might once more be listening to Bad. Intelligence.
With trust in politicians at an all-time low, the failure of the Prime Minister to follow anything resembling due process, in her dealings with former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, has exposed a very real threat to our claim to be a self-governing people.
The Attlee-era minister, Douglas Jay, famously proclaimed, in his 1937 book, The Socialist Case, that “the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for the people than the people themselves.” If that sentiment sounds familiar that will be because it now forms the central argument for those seeking to frustrate Brexit.
Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, was recently exposed sharing the Civil Service’s cunning plan to undermine We the People. Bungling Olly Robbins could not stop himself from gloating to his European counterparts, in a Brussels bar. Big man, Mr. Robbins was helpful holding court at such volume, as to be audible to a nearby ITV journalist.
I what one can only assume was an attempt to mimic Dr. Evil, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator sensationally revealed that the Irish backstop had been envisioned as a mechanism to form the basis of our future trading relationship with the European Super-State.
He also let on, his diabolical plan to kick Brexit into the long grass, through a length extension to Article 50, should Parliament not cave into the pressure to pass Mrs. May’s no-good deal.
The great disruptive Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher signalled to the Civil Service that she had the political superpower of seeing through bureaucratic bullshit, when she told the nation her favourite comedy was the satirical British comedy, Yes, Minister. Unfortunately for the country, Theresa May is no Margaret Thatcher. Whilst Thatcher had a healthy distrust of those who arrogantly believed they knew best; Mrs. May acts as if she is constantly seeking their approval. As such we have seen this Prime Minister increasingly centralise power within the administrative state.
In the present case, concerning Gavin Williamson, Mrs. May appears to have dismissed the Defence Secretary on little more than that the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, pointed a finger at him. This is a Prime Minister putting an unprecedented level of faith in a man who up to this point most voters had never heard of.
Despite claims of overwhelming evidence against Mr. Williamson, by the Prime Minister, the only evidence that has been put into the public domain is circumstantial at a stretch. Given that Mrs. May has misled the British public before (March 29?) and that those attacking Mr. Williamson are treating it as if it were a smoking gun, it would be rational to assume that this fact is the foundation on which the case against Gavin Williamson is built.
Gavin Williamson spoke with Daily Telegraph Deputy Political Editor, Steven Swinford, on the phone for eleven minutes, the day before the story broke. For those not used to dealing with the press, this does at first glance appear to be very bad indeed for Mr. Williamson.
A closer look shows exactly the opposite to be true. Mr Swinford is on record acknowledging the huge ramifications resulting from his revelations. He has said that “he is acutely aware of the political repercussions” and that it is “undeniably a matter of significant public interest.”
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that when a journalist is reporting a story of that magnitude, they are unlikely to have any conversation with their source that only lasts eleven minutes. Given that if the conversation was not all shooting the breeze, m at least five minutes of the conversation would be shooting the breeze, before you get to the ask; that is a very short amount of time discussing such a national security bombshell.
Can you imagine how the conversation went?:
“You won’t believe it I just walked past Boris and had to do a double take.”
“Yeah. He’s had a haircut. Think he might put some effort into his leadership bid this time which is a bloody nuisance but we’ve decided not to panic until he starts wearing Jean Lafont glasses so people think he’s serious. “
“Talking about serious, I’m all out of stories. If I don’t get anything soon, I might have to work harder than making the odd phone call. Can you help a guy out”?
“Sure. Let jump to a completely different topic and I’ll give you the 411 on the sick row, we just had in super-secret National Security Council. I think I have 5 minutes before my next meeting; here’s the Readers’ Digest version”
“Ah! Nice one, Gav. I don’t need any more detail than that, I have no further questions and don’t want any background. I have no curiosity at all, it makes me laugh that we are just able to toss around political bombshells, in less time than it takes to catch a bus. Thank God for the Go Go Gavin hotline! I now think I’ll manage to make Happy Hour at Margheritaville with the rest of the Lads from the Lobby.”
“Well Jealous. I have to pretend I care about my job as Defence Secretary now. It’s funny. Despite all my hard work, I don’t give a crap. It’s not like I’m ambitious or anything. I just casually handed you top secret information, with no thought behind it, to you even though to do so is risking my reputation and could lead to me doing time.”
“Mate you should have been a journo. Just did a week’s work in an eleven-minute phone call. It’s chilled at the top! Keep landing these stories in my lap and thank you. You saved me from the greatest threat at all – actual work!”
The above parody absurdly illustrates the absurdity of firing Gavin Williamson because he had phone call. A political bombshell if the proportions of the Huawei story is not something that would even be covered in an eleven-minute call.
An eleven-minute call to a Cabinet Minister from a journo to might be just to touch base.
Mr. Williamson is also a former Chief Whip under May and was Cameron’s former PPS; so he essentially acted as eyes and ears within the Parliamentary Party for two successive Tory Prime Minister’s. This will have given Mr. Williamson extraordinary insight into the anthropology of his Party.
At a time where we are witnessing a Commons Crack Up within the Conservative Party, someone with Mr. Williamson’s perspective would be a very useful source for any enterprising journalist
Mr. Williamson did not develop Defence myopia when he became Secretary of State and journalists who will have gone to Mr. Williamson for background on the mood of the Parliamentary Party when he was Chief Whip, will not have stopped doing so because his portfolio had moved to Defence.
In several of the premature political obituaries of Mr. Williamson, he comes across both as big headed and a bit of gossip, which journalistically can make for a good source. Just because Mr. Williamson might enjoy discussing the game of politics – who is up and who is down – does not mean that he would leak classified information pertaining to national security. The two could not be further apart as courses of action. It would be akin to saying that just because someone plays Grand Theft Auto, they should be a suspect in bank robbery.
Mr. Swinford might have wanted to check he was on good terms with Mr. Williamson before breaking the story in order to gauge the reaction he might get.
Mr. Swinford might have wanted to talk to Mr. Williamson the day before breaking the Huawei story to get any nuggets of gossip he could mine from a source, the day before it was going to dry up for a while.
Journalists also are known for having very good poker faces, so it is imminently possibility that Mr. Swinford would call Mr. Williamson and act as he would normally, not letting on that he was about to break a story, which would have a significant impact upon Mr. Williamson’s department. This is just a part of journalism; journalists must keep their cards close to their chests.
In trying to portray himself as a later-day Francis Urquhart, Gavin Williamson has allowed himself to be hoisted by his own petard. Silly comments about enjoying using sharp carrots and using his pet tarantula to intimidate MPs when Chief Whip are now being used as evidence that Mr. Williamson is now getting his comeuppance.
This again shows the weakness of the case against Mr. Williamson. It is seemingly fine to essentially accuse him for treason because he once said some stupid shit when trying to prove he was one tough nerd. On closer look, Mr. Williamson hardly comes across as a bruiser. What MP is going to fear a pet Tarantula? How is that scary? What was he going do? Drop it on the head of an MP who voted against a three-line whip?
A sign of his killer instinct was, apparently, that he named the Tarantula, Cronos after Greek god Zeus’ Dad. Firstly, if you must explain your scary cultural reference you have already lost any fear factor that you might have had. Secondly, that he decided to pick a reasonably obscure figure from Greek mythology shows that he is a school prefect’s idea of a tough guy. He could have called the Tarantula, Capone, or something like that but instead he gave it name that made it look like he reads Ovid before bedtime.
The comments to Conservative Party Conference about sharp carrots, conjure an image of him waving a pointy carrot at a difficult MP. It is hardly the stuff of which nightmares are made. Nor should it be.
The original novel House of Cards was written by author Michael (now Lord) Dobbs as a satire and not an instruction manual. An effective Chief Whip, which apparently Mr. Williamson was, acts as a counsellor of sorts to his Party’s MPs, listening to their concerns and helping them not only on a political level, but on a personal level, as well.
High up on any Member of Parliament’s list of priorities is maintaining a sense of normal in a Westminster Village that increasingly looks like Crazy Town. The Chief Whip to some MPs is a fixer, find ways to make the backbencher’s life easier, in return for he or she not making the Chief Whip’s life difficult. To others the Chief Whip will be a confidant, someone a backbencher can go to discuss the pressures of office and work on strategies to cope. Some MPs, in what can be at times a lonely profession, will look upon the Chief Whip as someone clubbable and a person with whom to have a chat or grab a drink.
An effective Chief Whip must be able to be considered a figure of integrity because you cannot effectively manage a Parliamentary Caucus through fear, as therein lies the road to ruin. To be an effective Chief Whip you must maintain trust with your colleagues, because if they cannot trust you, they will not deal with you.
From what I have seen Gavin Williamson can’t lie. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t ever tried to lie in his life, but anybody who could give Richard Madley his Jeremy Paxman moment, lacks the sociopathic gene to lie convincingly to journalists who are trained up to be, amongst other things, human lie detectors. This is a guy who cracks under the pressure of integration from the closest thing to a real-life Alan Partridge.
There will also be those who will say that the Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary will be privy to certain information that we are not. It is worth remembering that it was this mindset that led to Iraq War. It is worth noting that Sir. Mark just so happens to be one of the guilty men responsible for making the case for the War in Iraq, serving as Private Secretary to then Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw in 2001 and 2002. As is turns out he helped lead the nation to war on Bad Intelligence but we are now supposed to believe he has a slam dunk case against Mr. Williamson. Give me a break.
Of course, in his defence nothing past the eagle-eyed Sir. Mark. Whilst serving as Deputy High Commissioner in Pakistan, he was blissfully unaware that Osama bin Laden was laughing at us by having the audacity to be sunning it up in a luxury mansion in Abbottabad, less than 3 hours away from the British High Commission in Islamabad. Other than that, though, things don’t otherwise escape Sir. Martin’s notice and it would be offensive to say that there might be something significant that he missed out whilst conducting his investigation.
The investigation couldn’t have been led by a man more qualified for the job than Sir. Mark, either. With a bachelor’s degree in international economics and a master’s degree in economics, Sir. Mark is just the man to play to play detective, because that is surely within his skillset. He has all the hallmarks of becoming a real-life Perry Mason.
In fact, Sir. Mark was so keen to play detective that according to Tim Shipman, Political Editor of the Sunday Times, he even went as far as to launch the leak investigation without the Prime Minister’s express permission, although he was able to receive this retroactively. In any normal administration this would be considered insubordination of the highest order; in this one it has been treated as showing initiative. It is hardly surprising that an increasing number of people are saying that we are run by a Deep State, because that is some Deep State-y behaviour right there.
As for whether Mr. Williamson received fair treatment in the manner the investigation was conducted, it is highly doubtful. It is no secret within Whitehall that there was Taylor Swift-level Bad Blood between Sir. Mark and Gavin Williamson. I know of no other organisation where someone with a known grievance against an individual would be tasked to investigate him. It would be like having Tom launch an investigation into a matter, which might pertain Jerry.
Even if Sir. Mark were the patron saint of all virtue and willing to compartmentalise past conflicts; it still would not render him unsusceptible to being influenced by unconscious bias when making findings.
Additionally, according to a tweet from former Conservative MP, Nick Boles, made in immediate aftermath of Mr. Williamson’s departure from government, there was a significant caucus on the Conservative benches which had assumed Mr. Williamson’s guilt before the inquiry. The reasoning given by Mr. Boles do not stand up to any scrutiny and for a man who pontificates his intelligence at every opportunity; his arguments are no better than those that would be used by a naughty schoolboy.
He might as well have tweeted, “me and mates think Gavin did it because he was at the meeting and we don’t like him.” This is relevant because it does not take a quantum leap to read into Mr. Boles tweet, sent shortly after Mr. Williamson’s dismissal, that there was a grouping of a significant number of MPs, as to have an influence upon the investigation, alluding to Gavin Williamson’s guilt, without evidence greater than a hunch.
Given Mr. Boles’ personal politics, it would be a safe bet that the Conservative MPs, he is tweeting of, in said tweet, are from the “left” or “remain” wing of the Conservative Party and do not include the likes of Sir. Bill Cash and Andrea Jenkyns. This could of course be wrong, given that George Osborne and Michael Gove have been able to put aside their Brexit differences, to go to the Opera, to listen to Wagner together, because of course they do.
Regardless of the exact composition of this caucus, the investigation was extremely vulnerable to being tainted by careless whispers within the village, when certain people were pointing an accusatory finger at Mr. Williamson. It is very difficult to see how a fair internal investigation could have been run in that toxic environment.
Additional footage from the House of Commons, taken the day following Mr. Williamson’s dismissal, from the government, shows the Prime Minister’s divisive number two throwing shade, at the former Defence Secretary, following a question from the even more divisive Dominic Grieve. Mr. Grieve asked a question about Collective Cabinet Responsibility; to which Mr. Lidington replied that “members should speak with complete candour, within the room and shut up when they get outside.”
This was a not-so-subtle and gratuitous allusion to when Mr. Williamson was repeatedly questioned by Richard Madley about comments he had made telling Russia to “shut up and go away”. He would have been safer asking them to hack into Hillary’s e-mails, given the backlash he received. At least, in that case they had to have a proper investigation.
Mr. Grieve was so delighted by Mr. Lidington’s answer that he can be seen visibly smirking in the video. If one was to be unkindly predisposed to Mr. Lidington and Mr. Grieve, you might wonder whether they had planned the whole routine out before. That, of course, would be an incredibly cynical way to think.
What this does show is that Mr. Lidington, the number two to Theresa May, has behaved in an unkind way towards Mr. Williamson. If that was reflective of the counsel, he gave the Prime Minister, it is likely to have contaminated her opinion of Mr. Williamson and affected her judgement negatively in relation to matters concerning him. As Minister for the Cabinet Office, he will have also had close dealings with Sir. Mark Sedwell both during and in the run-up to the investigation. This too might have had an influence upon proceedings.
Also significant about Mr. Lidington’s appearance before Parliament that day was the eagerness of the government to brush the issue of Gavin Williamson’s unceremonious sacking under the carpet. It was very shadowy behaviour indeed. Mr. Williamson in contrast has asked for complete transparency throughout and actually wants an investigation, as he believes that it will prove his innocence. He is behaving as though he has nothing to hide, whilst the Prime Minister and her Cabinet Secretary are acting in such a way as to arouse suspicions that either something has happened, or is happening, that the public would not approve of.
So we are left with the following facts:-
The Cabinet Secretary had a poor relationship with Mr. Williamson
The Minister for the Cabinet Office indicated hostility towards Mr. Williamson when addressing the matter of his dismissal from the government, before the House of Commons.
The Cabinet Secretary launched his leak enquiry without the permission of the Prime Minister. This was an astonishing power grab and one for which Sir. Mark suffered no consequences. The enquiry was, later, retroactively approved.
The Prime Minister fired Mr. Williamson based upon “compelling evidence” produced by the aforementioned Cabinet Secretary.
The Prime Minister failed to cast a critical eye upon this evidence despite knowing that the last time Sir. Mark claimed, “compelling evidence”, British troops ended up being sent to war under false pretences.
The evidence touted by critics of Mr. Williamson which implies his guilt is extraordinarily weak indeed. The eleven-minute phone call between Mr. Williamson and Mr. Swinford is only indicative of them having had a phone call that day. Reading any more I not it than that is simply engaging in idle speculation.
On the balance of probability; given the length of the conversation between Mr Williamson and Mr. Swinford, Mr. Williamson’s explanation that he was having a chinwag about Brexit and the horse race for the Tory leadership sounds imminently plausible.
Nick Boles has stated that several Conservative MPs assumed that Mr. Williamson was guilty of the leak prior to the conclusion of the investigation. There is a strong chance that the Westminster rumour mill tainted the investigation before it even started.
Mr. Williamson did not help himself by cultivating a “Francis Urquhart 2.0” image in the media but being bad at personal PR is not indicative of leaking information relating to national security. It is a red herring. That Mr. Williamson’s opponents are focusing upon that is indicative of a weak argument.
The Prime Minister has people around her who are masters of the dark arts of politics and more than willing to engage in the politics of personal destruction.
There has been a concerted media campaign led against Mr. Williamson in the aftermath of his firing.
In her letter firing Mr. Williamson, Mrs. May states as one of her reasons for dismissing him that “No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.” In doing this she is effectively asking Mr. Williamson to prove a negative. This is very concern when used as a standard of proof at anytime but for it to be done so at the very top of our national government sets an extremely dangerous precedent going forward.
Mr. Williamson has asked for a police investigation to be called into the matter. This would be a great risk for him if he indeed was responsible for the leak. He is behaving as one would expect someone with nothing to hide.
The Prime Minister publicly fired Mr. Williamson and in the process of doing so defamed him. Mr. Williamson is adamant that the accusation that he was responsible for the Huawei leak is both defamatory and untrue.
Mr. Williamson maintains his innocence and, in a country, where one is innocent until proven guilty, Mr. Williamson is in the unenviable position of having to ask for the opportunity to prove his innocence. That Mr. Williamson even has to ask for this opportunity is unconscionable.
The Prime Minister has deprived him of that opportunity and in doing committed an act of great violence towards our constitution and violated natural law. As such she has proved herself unworthy of the great office she holds.
Patrick Sullivan is the Political Editor of The Commentator @PatJSullivan
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