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By Benjamin Sanders
1st May 2019
Just a day before Britain went to the polls in local elections – elections which polls suggested would deeply hurt the Conservatives – the Tory party shot itself in the foot. Gavin Williamson, seen as a potential leadership contender in the future, was sacked for allegedly being the person who leaked classified information several days ago – something which he denies. The information, which is connected to the government’s deal with Chinese firm Huawei, is reportedly highly sensitive not only because it contains information about Britain, but also about its allies as well.
Theresa May’s government, despite being warned by America that Britain’s security could be compromised with the Huawei deal, is going ahead anyway and allowing the company – which has close links with China’s communist government – to help install Britain’s 5G network. This whole fiasco raises the question of deep incompetency, which goes against decades of political tradition which asserted that the Conservative party were always better guardians of Britain’s security.
It also raises serious questions about Gavin Williamson himself, and the decision to appoint him as Defence Secretary. Since taking on the role, he has repeatedly tripped over his own shoelaces and made a mockery of the position. For example, he threatened to send an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea, which caused such fury in Beijing that Chancellor Philip Hammond had to cancel a crucial trade mission there. If the trip had gone ahead and been successful, it would have opened up markets worth £10 billion over 5 years. Williamson’s threat was also criticised by a former member of the Armed Forces Lord Dannatt, who suggested that Williamson was talking tough because he wanted to replace Theresa May, even if it meant endangering Britain’s relationship with China in the process.
And then there is the even more bizarre fact that Gavin Williamson used toilet paper with Vladimir Putin’s face on it in his private MoD office as a joke. A source close to the defence secretary leaked this information to the Daily Mail, which in turn provoked much ridicule earlier this year.
Then there is the story from the Independent from March 2018, which reported that Lubov Chernukhin, wife of a former Russian minister, had paid £30,000 to dine with Williamson. This embarrassing revelation came just days after the defence secretary had told Russia in a speech to ‘go away and shut up’ following the Salisbury poisoning attack. This caused the media to compare him to Private Pike, the incompetent and naive character from Dad’s Army, who is all talk and no trousers.
But the most baffling event was his attempt to overthrow Theresa May last Christmas. You would think that keeping a plan such as this secret would be a good idea, especially in its early stages, and especially when he was outlining his plan to sabotage the leadership bids of his colleagues Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt. Yet instead, he decided to talk about it loudly in a Mayfair hotel as he was having dinner with a colleague, meaning that all the other diners at other tables could hear what he was saying. One diner leaked the conversation to the press, and his plan was thwarted.
If he didn’t have the common sense to talk in private about overthrowing his own prime minister and thwarting his colleagues, how could he possibly be trusted with classified information?
What is clear overall though is that the Conservative Party, once known throughout the English speaking world as the ‘party of government’, has lost the ability to attract the talent necessary to maintain such a reputation.
With the Prime Minister deliberately sabotaging Brexit against the wishes of her own party grassroots, and with Jacob Rees-Mogg recently criticising so-called ‘Islamophobia’, the need for an alternative party on the political right is more necessary than ever.