Tory Gavin Williamson has been dumped as Education Secretary after he confused one black sportsman with another. It’s not the first time he’s made blunders or said things that are downright odd
Image: Getty Images)
Rumours have been swirling for weeks that Gavin Williamson could be demoted from Education Secretary in a Cabinet reshuffle – and now it has finally happened.
The blundering Tory was the first to get the chop as Boris Johnson rejigged his top team.
Mr Williamson did little to help his cause – after apparently confusing footballer Marcus Rashford with rugby player Maro Itoje.
Mr Williamson was blasted after claiming he shared a Zoom call with the campaigning footballer, who shamed the Government into several U-turns over free school meals.
The top Tory’s team later clarified he had in fact spoken to black rugby player Maro Itoje.
Lib Dem Daisy Cooper said the “shocking and embarrassing admission” should be the final straw for Mr Williamson losing his job. And Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy blasted the mistake “appalling”.
It was by far not the first time Mr Williamson has raised eyebrows with his gaffes, outbursts or simply slightly odd comments. Here’s a run through of his greatest hits…
His telling Russia to ‘go away and shut up’
As Defence Secretary, he was dubbed “Private Pike” by officials after the Dad’s Army character.
And in 2018 he said that Vladimir Putin’s Russia “should go away and should shut up”, in response to questions over the expulsion of diplomats over the Salisbury poison attack.
“What we will do is we will look at how Russia responds to what we have done,” he said.
“It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that.
“Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”
His joke about a ‘sharpened carrot’
The ex-fireplace salesman attempted to cut a threatening figure as Chief Whip, keeping a tarantula in his office.
The spider was named Cronus, after the Greek god who came to power by castrating his own father before eating his own children to ensure they wouldn’t oust him
As Chief Whip, he used a party conference speech to warn unruly MPs that he took a “carrot and stick” approach to discipline in the Commons.
In a deeply weird moment, he added: “I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.”
His comments on an ‘unflattering’ photo of the Queen
In the same Evening Standard interview that produced today’s story, Mr Williamson makes some somewhat odd comments about his portrait of the Queen.
“That was a gift because there was a comment about how every other office had a picture of the Queen,” he told the newspaper.
“Matt Hancock has her in a big circle… I do think we could get a more flattering one.”
He then apparently realised what he had said, adding: “Obviously every picture of the Queen is absolutely stunning but I’ve seen better than that.”
UK PARLIAMENT/AFP via Getty Imag)
His sacking over a national security leak
In May 2019 Theresa May sacked him as Defence Secretary over the leak of sensitive information about phone giant Huawei from the National Security Council.
In a brutal dismissal letter, Mrs May said she was “concerned by the manner in which you have engaged with this investigation.”
She went on: “In our meeting this evening, I put to you the latest information from the investigation, which provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure.
“No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”
AFP via Getty Images)
But Mr Williamson insists he was not responsible for the disclosure.
In a letter to the Prime Minister at the time, he said: “I strenuously deny that I was in any way involved in this leak and I am confident that a thorough and formal inquiry would have vindicated my position.”
His fruitless fight with schools
In December 2020 the Education Secretary threatened legal powers against a council which advised headteachers to close early for Christmas.
He issued a temporary continuity direction to the Royal Borough of Greenwich, ordering it must “immediately and by 10am on 15 December” withdraw its recommendation for schools to close.
Critics argued the council was vindicated – Covid cases were soaring, hit a peak just before New Year’s Eve, and England’s primary schools went into lockdown after one day of term in January.
His exams chaos
In August 2020 exams descended into chaos post-Covid, with thousands of students missing out on uni places before Mr Williamson backtracked and accepted teachers’ grades.
Mr Williamson sought to blame a controversial algorithm which shifted pupils’ grades when Covid delayed exams.
He claimed he only realised “over the weekend” that there were major flaws in students’ A-level grades.
But Sir Jon Coles, a former director-general at the Department for Education, raised fears with the bungling Education Secretary six weeks earlier that poorer youngsters would move out.
And the Commons Education Committee warned about the algorithm on July 10 – saying it risked “inaccuracy and bias against young people from disadvantaged backgrounds”.
His diplomatic blunder with France
And in 2018 he risked a diplomatic row with France, by saying there was no point listening to French politicians on how to approach the conflict in Syria.
“What is the point in listening to French politicians?,” he told reporters at a Nato summit. “We have our own foreign policy, we don’t need to copy [others].”
His self-confessed affair
In January 2018, Mr Williamson took the unusual step of confessing to cheating on his wife in 2004.
He admitted he kissed a colleague when he worked as a manager at fireplace manufacturer Elgin and Hall in Yorkshire.
The pair “shared a kiss a couple of times” but the relationship “never went further”, he claimed.
Westminster-watchers speculated about whether he had ‘fessed up to neutralise any criticisms if he ran for party leader.
That run for the leadership has, sadly for sketch-writers the world over, not yet come to pass.