And there I was just about to pen something saying that contrary to conventional wisdom Theresa May could emerge from the fall of Sir Michael Fallon strengthened. And then she appointed Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary, or rather she allowed Gavin Williamson to appoint himself as Defence Secretary and to put one of his friends in as government Chief Whip as a bonus. It is beyond parody.
Yet the resistable rise – and it must be resisted – of Gavin Williamson continues unchecked, it seems. Indeed, it is one of the most baffling aspects of contemporary politics. How has he done it? Spotted by David Cameron he made the switch to Theresa May. His tenure as Chief Whip -featuring endless daft self-references to his sinister powers – has divided opinion, to put it mildly. His advocates (and he has his fans) are astonished that he is so intensely disliked by critics. But I have never heard so many Tory MPs speak ill of a Chief Whip. It is quite something to behold.
His speech to party conference this year – why was the Chief Whip even speaking? – was a toe-curling embarrassment featuring lame jokes. No trace of an idea – beyond self-promotion – has ever been detected in connection with Williamson. His attempts to negotiate a deal with the DUP were comically inept, and got May into trouble with the Palace. Leave it to me, Williamson said, and he flew to Belfast to work his magic after the general election. The premature declaration that the deal was sealed should have finished Williamson’s career. Only a determination to keep Corbyn out and the practical good sense of the DUP patched it together later.
Yet May, so weak that she presumably had no choice, has now made Williamson Secretary of State for Defence, a great and vital office. It is banana republic stuff. Gavin, I need a new Defence Secretary, any ideas? Yes Prime Minister, how about me?
This farce can only happen because the Tory party is experiencing something akin to a collective nervous breakdown at Westminster. When the news broke of Fallon’s resignation on Wednesday evening the political and media class was gathered for its annual works outing, the Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards. As the drink flowed the talk became more feverish. The affair had the wild feel of those parties described during the war at the Savoy as the bombs fell on London, although this was in the Rosewood in Holborn. One more for the road before the balloon goes up?
The Prime Minister wasn’t there, as she was dealing with the fall out from Fallon, so it cannot have been Westminster mob madness that made her appoint Williamson. It looks instead as though she is trying to line him up as her post-Brexit successor. This must not be allowed to happen, unless you want Corbyn as Prime Minister. Williamson once vowed, it is said, to prevent Boris Johnson ever becoming Prime Minister. Now it is Williamson himself who must be stopped.