Don’t let Gavin Williamson whitewash his failings like this – Tom Richmond

GAVIN Williamson was quick this week to take advantage of the prerogative of Ministers and MPs to update Hansard – the official verbatim record of Parliamentary proceedings – if they mis-speak.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson.

He’s the hopeless and hapless Education Secretary who became tongue-tied, muddled or confused – you decide – when he tried to brief the Commons on the closure of schools, cancellation of exams and plans for online lessons.

In exchanges with his Labour opposite number Kate Green, Williamson told her: “I can absolutely assure the honourable lady I will not let schools be open for a moment longer than they...”

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There’s a pause as MPs looks on incredulously. He then goes on: “I will not let schools.” And, after further hesitation, he tries for a third time: “I will not let schools be closed for a moment longer than they need to be. I will do everything I can...”

Gavin Williamson is accused of presiding over chaos as Education Secretary.

Excruciating and embarrassing, these muddled messages were not evidence of a Minister on top of their brief. They were indicative of the indecision of Williamson that has defined his (mis)management of the Department for Education.

Contrast Williamson’s words to the Commons with the official transcript published by Hansard the following morning: “I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that I will not let schools be closed for a moment longer than they need to be.” It then continues: “I will do everything I can to ensure that every school is open...”

But I’m afraid that is insufficient to save the political skin of a Cabinet minister that The Yorkshire Post took no pleasure in describing on Wednesday as “the most incompetent, ineffectual and inept Education Secretary in living memory”.

Every teacher, parent and pupil watching Williamson’s statement live on TV – and many did – will have been in despair of his incoherence from the status of schools to a contemptible lack of urgency over the supply and distribution of laptops to underprivileged children and free internet access to all students.

Should Gavin Williamson be resigning as Education Secretary?

The latter is illustrated by the Halifax school that needs “another 171 laptops to ensure children from most deprived backgrounds have access to remote learning” according to local MP Holly Lynch.

But Williamson cannot even use the maxim ‘‘lessons will be learned’’ – the default response of Ministers at times of difficulty – because none were learned from last summer’s exams chaos and need to prepare for this inevitable lockdown.

Yet just as galling was the failure of MPs on all sides to call out Williamson’s incompetence – do they seriously think he’s the best person for the job? – and Boris Johnson’s misplaced faith in the Education Secretary. All we have is the half-hearted words of the PM’s press secretary Allegra Stratton who says Downing Street believes the Education Secretary has been working “to his utmost ability”.

“Utmost ability”? If this Gavin Williamson at his brilliant best, there’s little hope for schools.

All I know, after this un-ringing endorsement, is the post of Education Secretary is one of the most important in government – on a par with the great offices of state – and is occupied by a political dunce more interested in whitewashing the Parliamentary record rather than writing a letter of resignation.

That is assuming Gavin Williamson knows how to spell the words ‘‘I resign’’.

GOOD to see Betty Boothroyd on fighting form questioning the Government’s 
new approach to Covid vaccines – poor Mark Austin, the veteran Sky News presenter, struggled to get a word in edgeways.

Having had her first Pfizer jab, the 91-year-old former Speaker is aghast that she – and others – now face a long delay for the promised second dose.

People of her generation want clarity and certainty when it comes to inoculations – and other medical matters.

What she did not say, however, is that it was one Tony Blair – the self-qualified armchair doctor, virologist and sooth-sayer – who first suggested that he knew more about such matters than the scientists.

A HELPING hand might – finally – be on the way to those people who have found GPs even more inaccessible since the Covid pandemic.

Pollsters Ipsos MORI sent out a GP Patient Survey this week with 61 very specific questions on patient 
experiences.

It’s worth taking 15 minutes to complete – I’ve done so – but what it does not say is whether the Department of Health, or poor performing GP surgeries, will have to abide by the results.

ONE observation on Brexit on which readers maybe able to assist. When I went to the post office to send a card to friends in Ireland this week, I was asked to fill in a label for customs purposes. No problem – it took 30 seconds to do – but is this now a new requirement or was the postmaster being unduly officious?

GREAT to get home and find this water-sodden note from Northern Gas Networks pushed through letter boxes with the following boxes ticked – ‘‘disconnect your gas supply’’; ‘‘switch your gas back on’’; and ‘‘relight your gas appliances’’. No wonder people were in a panic. It made as much sense as a Gavin Williamson leadership lesson.

FINALLY, some wonderful Yorkshire Parkin and Rich Fruit Cake from Rob Royd Farm Shop in Barnsley – it was a much appreciated Christmas present – has made me even more convinced about the need to support local food producers and shops in 2021. They’re the best of the best and Covid is not their fault.

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