Gavin Williamson texts ‘raise very serious questions’ says expert
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Sir Gavin Williamson sensationally quit his top role within Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet after allegations of bullying emerged this week. The MP for South Staffordshire has vehemently denied claims he used abusive behaviour towards fellow politicians and civil servants, as his resignation has sparks fresh problems for Mr Sunak, who is barely two weeks into his premiership. But For Sir Gavin – who has been forced out of Governmental posts twice before – his time in office has been well documented, including his pet spider he kept on his desk to scare politicians while he was the Conservative Party’s Chief Whip between 2016 and 2017.
Sir Gavin was chosen to become Chief Whip after backing Theresa May in the 2016 Conservative Party leadership race, which saw the MP for Maidenhead become Prime Minister after fending off competition from the likes of Boris Johnson, Andrea Leadsom and Michael Gove.
His hot temper, likened often to Malcolm Tucker of the BBC-crafted comedy series The Thick of It, saw him earn the support of politicians when votes were needed, and his character was immortalised in the docudrama Theresa v Boris: How May Became PM.
In one scene, which saw actor Daniel Casey play Sir Gavin, the then-Chief Whip was heard shouting: “I’ll fire you, then I’ll f*****g castrate you, all right?”
As if to cement his reputation, it emerged that Sir Gavin also kept a spider on his desk, a tarantula named Cronus, after the Greek god who “castrated his father and ate his children”.
The politician, who also served as Education Secretary, discussed Cronus after it appeared parliamentary authorities demanded the spider be removed from his office.
According to a 2017 New Statesman article, Sir Gavin said: “You have to look at different ways to persuade people to vote with the Government. Cronus is a perfect example of an incredibly clean, ruthless killer.”
Sir Gavin’s reputation first emerged when he was selected to be Prime Minister David Cameron’s parliamentary private secretary between 2013 and 2016. Giles Kenningham, Cameron’s former head of political press, noted how the politician “understood the heartbeat of the party”.
He added: “He has a forensic knowledge of what’s going on, he puts in the work in the tea rooms and the bars. He knows everyone.”
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Despite being a vocal Remainer during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign, he even earned the rest of his rivals in the Leave camp, including Bill Cash. He said: “Time spent in Gavin’s company is always interesting and entertaining. We’ve had our share of frank conversations but it’s always done on the basis of equals.”
Growing up, Sir Gavin was likely immersed in politics, particularly given that his parents both backed Labour in his native Scarborough. Unearthed accounts show that his father Ray was a local government worker, while his mother Beverly worked in a job centre.
More recently, Cronus’ presence in the corridors of Westminster has been used to condemn Sir Gavin’s behaviour, including by some commentators such as Sky News’ Kay Burley. In an interview with Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, she said Sir Gavin “doesn’t seem a particularly pleasant bloke or boss”.
However, Mr Stride noted how there was “always this great aura” around the politician adding: “Do you remember Cronus, the spider, the tarantula etc? The reality with Cronus is he was much touted but he never actually was released to bite anybody.
“So that was how I always saw Gavin – as somebody who had this sort of aura or mystique around him, but the reality was he just generally got on with his job.”
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But despite garnering some support, Sir Gavin’s time in office has been tumultuous. He was fired as defence secretary in May 2019 over allegations of leaking info from National Security Council meetings, and lost his job as education secretary after two years during a Boris Johnson cabinet reshuffle.
Now, he’s on the outs with the establishment once more, accused of bullying and resigning to save the party’s graces.
His recent behaviour has been widely criticised by rival politicians in both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. Among them was David Lammy, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, who told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that he had acted in a “repellent, odious and unacceptable” manner.
He continued: “He appointed him as some sort of enforcer – apparently because this is the way he behaves,” Mr Lammy said.
“We really should have an account of why he came back into Government – it’s not clear in the first place why this individual was knighted for services to this country.”
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper added: “Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer about why he appointed Gavin Williamson, then stood by him instead of sacking him. His promise to lead a Government of integrity has now been left in tatters.”
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