Yesterday, Chris Failing Grayling managed to cost taxpayers another £50 million due to his incompetence and hauf-airsed handling of ferry contracts for the event of a no-deal Brexit, taking the total that his uselessness has cost us all to about £3 billion, and he still wasn’t the most hopeless Conservative cabinet minister of the day. That award went to Gavin Williamson, who managed a feat hitherto believed impossible. He managed to demonstrate that he was so spectacularly unfit for office that Theresa May had the political authority to sack him. Gavin was given his jotters after being identified as the person who leaked information to the press about the government’s decision to award the 5G broadband and mobile phone contract to the Chinese company Huawei despite fears that the company is obliged to share clients’ information with the Chinese government.
Theresa May, a prime minister who scarcely has the political authority to be trusted with the cabinet office’s biscuit and sandwiches order, whose day begins with a spot of humiliation at the hands of her party and who then gets through indignity, mortification, disgrace, embarrassment, and ends it all with ignominy and affrontment before knocking off for the evening, could still summon up the determination to sack Gavin and to humiliate him instead. It’s a bit like being beaten by an elderly nun with a speech impediment in a blasphemy rap battle.
Before he was unceremoniously told to shut up and go Huawei, Gavin was previously best known for telling Vladimir Putin to shut up and go away, offering paintball guns to the people of Gibraltar, and threatening to go to war with China with an aircraft carrier with no planes on it. He will now join the long and ever-lengthening list of former Conservative defence ministers who were forced out of office for their ineptitude, venality, or just outright sleaziness. The only person who was pleased by yesterday’s proceedings was Liam Fox, because now when a politician’s name is prefaced with “disgraced former Defence Secretary” people won’t automatically assume that it’s his name that’s going to follow.
It should be said that Gavin strenuously denies that he was responsible for leaking information about the National Security Council meeting to the Telegraph newspaper. He swore on his kids’ lives that it wasn’t him, because that’s the kind of classy guy that he is. However Gavin has previously been more leaky than an incontinent dog that hasn’t had walkies for twelve hours, so he was always going to be the prime suspect. The difference of course is that the dog doesn’t mean to ruin your furniture, Gavin deliberately went out of his way to ruin his colleagues’ careers, and he wasn’t too bothered about what else got trashed in the process. Strategic leaking to a friendly press was the only thing that Gavin was ever any much good at.
Labour, the SNP, and the other parties are now demanding that there should be a police investigation. The Government is resisting this, saying that they’re not going to refer the matter to the police and as far as they are concerned the matter is closed. No one else is happy with this, least of all Gavin, the Prime Minister has just accused a former cabinet minister of lying, of leaking classified information from the UK’s most secretive and sensitive committee in order to gain an advantage in the Tory leadership contest. She doesn’t now get to say that’s it, nothing to see here, and pretend that it’s all over.
Irrespective of whether Gavin really did leak the information or it was some other Tory leadership hopeful, this sordid little episode sums up everything that is wrong with this Conservative government. It’s packed to the brims with careerists and opportunists who prioritise their own interests first, and Conservative party interests second. The interests of the rest of us don’t figure in their calculations. They blatantly practise one set of self-serving rules for themselves, but self-righteously impose quite a different set on everyone else. Any other person who leaked information from a highly sensitive security meeting, from the inner sanctums of the British state, would be hung out to dry in a high security prison sooner than you could say I swear on the wean’s life that it wisnae me. And all the while the likes of Theresa May would be intoning sanctimoniously about the importance of making an example.
Double standards run through this government and the Conservative party from top to bottom. The entire strategy of the government rests upon persuading, cajoling, and bribing Conservative MPs to change their minds on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, but no one else is allowed to change their minds on Brexit, and Scotland isn’t allowed to change its mind on independence. They unilaterally rip up the Scottish Claim of Right, destroy the foundations of the devolution settlement, and then preach to us about the importance of respecting the will of the people. They insist that the opinion polling which shows that a majority of people in the UK no longer want to leave the EU means nothing, but cite dubious and cherry picked results from opinion polls to claim that Scotland doesn’t want another independence referendum.
All the way through the 1980s, I worked up a healthy loathing for the Conservative government of Thatcher. It was evil. It was vile. It was ideologically blind and didn’t care about the harm and damage that it wrought upon working class communities – worse, that harm and damage was deliberate policy. I never for a second imagined that it would be humanly possible to despise a government any more than I despised Thatcher. But this lot have managed it. At least Thatcher’s government was competently vile. Its evil was a product of the evil ideology that it espoused. This lot are just incompetent and possess no ideology or principles other than their own enrichment and whatever short term considerations happen to advance their sorry careers. This is the government of the talentless, bungling their way into the history books as the worst government in the UK since WW2. Or at least the worst British government until the next one, because make no mistake, the next one will be worse. It will be led by a Conservative leader who’s even more in thrall to English nationalism than Theresa May.
The real tragedy here for those who claim to cherish their British identity is that there is no prospect of it ever getting better. Stretching ahead of the UK for decades to come are future incarnations of Gavin Williamsons, Theresa Mays, and Chris Graylings, of disgraced former defence secretaries, and of opportunist careerism substituting for government policy. And lurking in the shadows will be the right wing populism of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party and the increasingly naked racism of Ukip. That’s the British future, and it’s not pretty, it’s not safe, it’s not secure. It’s certainly not great. Scotland has a better choice, a different choice. It’s time we said shut up and go huawei to the opportunists and careerists who’ve seized control of the UK.
My new book has just been published by Vagabond Voices. Containing the best articles from The National from 2016 to date. Weighing in at over 350 pages, this is the biggest and best anthology of Wee Gingerisms yet. This collection of pieces covers the increasingly demented Brexit years, and the continuing presence and strength of Scotland’s independence movement.
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