I would argue that it is Gavin Williamson who has done far more to bring about the breakthrough of PM Johnson, by his acting as an effective campaign manager.
Williamson’s supposed gaffes as Defence Secretary are well known. However, that overlooks his time as Chief Whip, where he was incredibly effective, brokering the DUP-CON pact and ensuring that the Government kept on track. One wonders whether we would have had all the drama with the Withdrawal Agreement if Williamson had remained Chief Whip.
In the campaign for Johnson’s leadership, I would argue that it is Williamson (being sacked by May in Marf’s cartoon. He famously kept a pet tarantula on his desk) who has won it for BJ and he has again come into his own. It is easy in hindsight to think that Johnson’s route to power was inevitable. But that is not the case. We all know from the comments on this site that Johnson was seen by most (but not all) as embodying the typical perennial pattern of favourites for the next Conservative leader falling at the fence. Few judged he could make the leap. His character was untrustworthy and he would not have the discipline for a campaign. Many of his colleagues disliked him intensely.
Moreover, Johnson’s position as the chief cheerleader for Brexit wasn’t secure. It is easy to mock their campaigns now but both Dominic Raab and Esther McVey could have provided serious competition for that block. Both had been building up their leadership campaigns for months post-their resignations and burnishing their credentials, Raab by constant public appearances, McVey by embedding herself more at the grassroots level. Both had policies that went beyond Brexit to a more overriding vision that would appeal to members – Raab with low taxation, McVey with blue-collar conservatism. Both thought they had the numbers to progress further (Raab has but McVey thought she had at least 20, including Liam Fox who signed the papers for Boris Johnson).
Both had good reason to think in a campaign where many candidates would come from the pro-Remain wing that the ERG would decide that they needed to swing behind a pro-Brexit candidate to get the latter into the second round where they would probably win the membership contest and that Johnson wouldn’t be trusted.
Yet that hasn’t happened. Williamson would have realised that getting the support of the main ERG MPs was vital. As long as Johnson could get to the second round and his opponents were the likes of Gove and Hunt, he was most likely in with the membership.
I would argue that what he did phenomenally well was gain the support of this block. Having Rees Mogg, Francois and Baker quickly come out for Johnson effectively demolished any hopes of Johnson being out-Brexited. Meanwhile, his marshalling of MPs for Boris, pointing out that it is better to be on the side of the winner if you wanted a job, has been phenomenal. MPs who publicly stated their disbelief of a PM BoJo have fallen into line.
As a result, we now have the situation where, unless BoJo blows up, he will be our next PM.
extract from ‘The Kitchen Cabinet’ on Political Betting.