View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
13 June 2012updated 07 Jun 2021 2:40pm

Theresa May and Gavin Williamson’s reputations should both be destroyed by his sacking

By Stephen Bush

Theresa May has sacked Gavin Williamson as Secretary of State for Defence following a civil service inquiry into the leak of information that Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei will be allowed to build parts of the United Kingdom’s new 5G infrastructure to the Telegraph.

May cited both the findings of the inquiry and his behaviour during that inquiry for his sacking, which ends his frontbench career after a meteoric three-year rise, from the lowly post of bagcarrier under David Cameron in 2016, to May’s first Chief Whip and then to Defence Secretary.

The dismissal reflects poorly on both Williamson and the woman who repeatedly promoted him. While the decision was taken at a meeting of the National Security Council, to which only ministers with security clearance are invited, it did not concern operational or classified information and the decision is fundamentally a public procurement one that deserves to be debated in full view. To do as May did and conduct a mole hunt right in heart of government is a ludicrous reaction, albeit one which typifies the British state’s attitude to and treatment of whistleblowers.

The end of Williamson’s frontbench career is a small price compared to the grim and troubling fate of whistleblowers, most of whom, as journalist Nick Cohen puts it, end up “dead or on the dole”. Very few have a £75,000 salary as an MP to fall back on. But the manner and the mood music around it, in which condemnation of the fact of the leak vastly outweighed discussion of its contents, is a familiar and depressing story.

Also unlike most whistleblowers, Williamson emerges from the affair with his reputation shredded rather than enhanced, if, as May suggests, he leaked the information. (Williamson strongly denies that he did so, and has told Sky News that he swears on his children’s lives that he did not leak the story.) If you oppose a public procurement decision that runs right across your government portfolio to the point that you feel strongly enough to leak it, you should resign: obviously. What you should not do is blame your civil servants, who have no public or private means to defend themselves, and repeatedly claim you have nothing to do with it.

Both he, and the Prime Minister who put so much stock in him and powered his rise, ought to emerge as reduced figures as a result. It is a grim reality that only Williamson is likely to do so.

Content from our partners
Inside the UK's enduring love for chocolate
Unlocking the potential of a national asset, St Pancras International
Time for Labour to turn the tide on children’s health

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team. The best way to sign up for The Green Transition is via spotlightonpolicy.substack.com
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU