Theresa May is taking two big risks in promoting Gavin Williamson

The Prime Minister has replaced one potential source of scandal with another. 

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Fallon out, Gav…in! Theresa May has promoted Gavin Williamson from his post as Chief Whip to Secretary of State for Defence.

One of the more durable myths about the Prime Minister is that she is risk-averse, when if anything she is overly inclined to take big risks when none are needed. Promoting Williamson is one such move.

The first, comparatively minor problem is that it will add to the fear among Conservative backbenchers that as well as being unfit for purpose as far as fighting the next election goes, the Prime Minister simply isn’t up to the task of carrying through a wholesale regeneration of the top team, and that her replacement may need to come sooner rather than later. Ultimately however, the fear of letting in a Labour government means that May is stronger than she appears and perhaps than she believes. 

The bigger problem is that sooner or later, the story over sexual harassment at Westminster is going to move from the question of who did what, to who knew about it. It’s clear, among other things, that none of the political parties’ grievance procedures are fit for purpose. At some point the debate will move from what Michael Fallon, Stephen Crabb and whoever else is found to have done something they ought not to have done, to who in authority knew that bad behaviour was going on.

There are already questions swirling around the Prime Minister about what she knew when, but she at least has plausible deniability. (Semi-plausible deniability.) May has removed the source of one scandal and replaced him with someone who is near-certain to be plunged into the next.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.