A look back a political career characterised by gaffes
Gavin Williamson is reportedly facing being replaced as education secretary by a Tory minister who’s made her name through her attacks on ‘woke’ education campaigners. But while equalities minister Kemi Badenoch is no stranger to controversy — including going on a Twitter tirade after a journalist dared ask her questions — when it comes to blunders, she would struggle to fill her predecessor’s shoes.
Here are some of the gaffes that defined Williamson’s colourful political career.
- The A-Levels fiasco:
Last summer Williamson came under fire after the algorithm used to grade A-Levels resulted in almost 40% of results being downgraded from predicted grades. Students and parents were understandably furious as many lost university places amidst educational disruptions during the pandemic.
Williamson initially doubled down in defending the system, declaring there would be ‘“no U-turn, no change”, before performing a spectacular U-turn just two days later.
2. Telling Russia to ‘shut up and go away’
Following the Salisbury poisoning, then-defence secretary Williamson was asked by reporters on how the Kremlin would react to expulsions and other UK responses. In remarks that were subsequently mocked both domestically and abroad, Williamson said that Russia should “shut up” and “go away”.
3. Getting sacked over a national security leak
Williamson was removed from his post as defence secretary after secretive plans to allow Huawei limited access to help build the UK’s 5G network were leaked to the press. He strenuously denied being behind the leak, going as far as swearing on his children’s lives.
His eventful tenure as defence secretary reportedly included out of the box suggestions like mounting guns to tractors.
4. A literal whip
The politician’s attempt to project a tough guy image led to much entertainment online after a picture of him sitting on his desk with a whip in the foreground was shared on Twitter. Following the A-Levels U-turn, a stern-faced Williamson posed with the whip, in a not-so-subtle reference to his days as chief whip and warning to his fellow Tories that he knew where the bodies were buried.
He has a history of threatening desk props, being in the habit of introducing MPs to his pet tarantula when he was chief whip under Theresa May.
5. Phone woes
A student left Williamson an angry voicemail after finding the education secretary’s phone on Google. But to be fair, Williamson is in good company of Cabinet members with their personal numbers online, including the Prime Minister. In response to the impact of the pandemic on education, Williamson pushed for a ban on mobile phones in schools, which would at least keep pupils from ringing him at school times.
And on a final contender in the Williamson vs phones genre, let’s remember the time when his own phone heckled him in the House of Commons, mistaking a debate on Syria for Siri.
It remains to be seen where Williamson’s ability to always fail upwards will take him next.
Sophia Dourou is a freelance journalist