After the shock resignation of Sir Michael Fallon, Theresa May has dodged a full reshuffle by appointing former Chief Whip Gavin Williamson as Fallon’s replacement. This has left many outside the Westminster bubble asking, “who is this guy?” and many on the Tory backbenches asking, “what the *!%*?”
Williamson is the ultimate Westminster insider, rising imperceptibly in recent years by forming close personal bonds with first David Cameron, and then transferring loyalties in a heartbeat to Theresa May. Until this recent appointment, he was perhaps best-known for his pet tarantula, Cronus, whose killer instinct he seems to delight in talking about. In his ‘slightly sinister’ speech at the Conservative Party Conference he claimed, “I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot”.
But he is not without friends. Some report on a delightful, amusing and loyal man. But others – not in his club – view him as cold and ruthless. And the Tory tearooms yesterday were alight with anger that someone who has never stood at the despatch box in his life will do so for the first time in one of the most important jobs in government. One anonymous MP yesterday even described his appointment as the most unpopular political decision they had ever known. Quite some statement.
Gavin Williamson’s life in the shadows is over. He now stands at the political front-line, leading men and woman on the real front-line. We’re about to find out if his many friends, or his many foes, are right.