In a normal job, if you are sacked or demoted, you can least sneak off to the nearest pub to drown your sorrows, without the world and his wife revelling in your misfortune.
In politics you can have the very public march towards Number 10 before the resignation letter is released to the press, in which the sacked minister invariably thanks the Prime Minister – no doubt through gritted teeth – for the privilege of serving in the Cabinet and promises to support the government from the back benches.
But no matter how harsh and callous these proceedings are, and Johnson did most of his sackings in the privacy of his Commons office, it is hard to feel much sympathy for one of the highest profile casualties of this week’s reshuffle – the now former Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson.
On the surface at least Williamson is the ideal representative of a government dedicated to meritocracy and “levelling up” of the North. He was born in Scarborough, educated at a local comprehensive and is a graduate of the University of Bradford.
In other words he is as far from the privileged life track we expect from MPs of all parties – Home Counties-born, public school educated, PPE at Oxford, cushy research job at a think tank – as it is possible to imagine. No silver spoon here.
But Williamson, stiff and awkward and with little fellow feeling, has always been difficult to warm to. As Chief Whip he kept a pet tarantula spider on his desk, and he seemed to revel in his power over fellow MPs.
His time as Education Secretary has been characterised by U-turns and disasters – most notably the utter chaos of last year’s exams, with grades going through the roof and the algorithm-based results abandoned at the last minute.
And although other senior figures, such as the department’s most senior civil servant and the head of the exams watchdog, paid with their jobs, Williamson, nominally in charge of the whole fiasco, sailed serenely on – until now.
So what next for the MP for South Staffordshire? He admits he has the “hide of a rhino” and I doubt the events of this week will do much to dent his self-confidence. And don’t forget it is not the first time he has been sacked from the Cabinet – Theresa May dismissed him as Defence Secretary in 2019 after the leak of National Security Council information.
Yet another comeback seems unlikely, but given how crazy politics is these days, I wouldn’t entirely rule it out.
Another big headline from this week’s reshuffle was the replacement of Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary with Liz Truss, only the second woman to hold the post after Labour’s Margaret Beckett in 2006.
Truss is another product of state education, in her case a comprehensive school in Leeds, and she has become the darling of the Conservative grassroots after successfully negotiating more than 50 new post-Brexit trade deals with countries around the world.
She pledged this week to use her new role to “promote a positive, outward vision of global Britain”. Let’s hope she holds good to that, because it is exactly what this country needs.
In all, this Conservative Cabinet remains one of the most diverse in British history with people from modest backgrounds, women and ethnic minorities taking up roles with real power. It demonstrates from the very top that your sex, schooling or the colour of your skin are no barriers for ambitious and talented people, and that is a good message to give to the country.
But other than this, it is hard to discern any significant shifts left or right in the latest appointments. Perhaps this is little surprise, because Johnson is no dogmatic ideologue. His top priority has always been gaining power and keeping it, and that is something he has proved very good at, up to now at least.
But with the Conservatives suffering a serious decline in the opinion polls for the first time since 2019, largely the result, I suspect, of the disastrous decision to push through massive and unnecessary tax rises, Johnson has a huge job on his hands. He will be hoping his new team will help restore trust with voters, particularly those in “Red Wall” northern seats. Good luck with that, Boris – it is a very tall order.
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