Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. The Staggers
2 November 2017

Theresa May is taking two big risks in promoting Gavin Williamson

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

By Stephen Bush

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A weekly dig into the New Statesman’s archive of over 100 years of stellar and influential journalism, sent each Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How automation can help telecoms companies unlock their growth potential
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better
Feel confident gifting tech to your children this Christmas