If you think you could do a better job as Education Secretary than Gavin Williamson, then do not be smug because literally anyone could.
Back in the news again for yet another cock up – unprecedented levels of A level grade inflation in this case – this latest episode perfectly encapsulates Williamson’s personal incompetence, and more generally the moribund condition and abject decay of standards in British public life and governance.
For those unaware of the specific details of this story, it is worth a quick recap. In the same way the lives of everyone has been affected, ever since March 2020 English schools have suffered severe disruption, from an absence of physical teaching to regular self-isolation for pupils, as part of the Government’s attempt to reduce transmission of Coronavirus. Unsurprisingly this decision had, and was always going to have, a major impact on the education of schoolchildren. Being his job to manage crises such as these, in these circumstances most would therefore have expected the Education Secretary to have been working on a plan to rectify this situation from day one. Alas not.
Far from fighting with the Treasury to secure funding for a meaningful after school or holiday catch up plans to allow pupils to sit exams normally, instead Gavin Williamson spent most of the past two years desperately sucking up to the Tory base as part of the war on woke – which whilst an important issue, pales into comparison against the educational damage caused by the war on Covid. The culmination of this neglect was the ridiculous farce yesterday of almost 40 percent of A Level pupils being issued the top grades. At almost double the proportion given out two years before, at best the effect has been to leave this year’s cohort with a meaningless set of results, at worst to shaft many of them, especially the most deprived, for life.
A fireplace salesman before entering politics (a surprising fact considering his lack of sales ability), the fact Gavin Williamson is in charge of the Education Department in the first place is perhaps the most damning thing about all of this: that he was incompetent was already a known fact.
Amid the diplomatic fallout caused by the Salisbury poisonings, as Defence Secretary, his inability to be serious was first exposed to public attention via his call for Russia to ‘go away and shut up’. More humiliation followed when it was revealed by the press that MOD officials referred to him as Private Pike after the hapless Dad’s Army character. After two long years, his disastrous tenure eventually ended after then Prime Minister Theresa May was forced to sack him for leaking a sensitive national security decision unpopular on the Tory backbenches (to allow Huawei 5G equipment to remain in the UK network).
Despite having committed a sufficiently disgraceful offence to have ended the career of literally anyone in any other profession, far from taking his own advice to go away and shut up, such was his ambition for high office and lack of honour he then shamelessly proceeded to get to work in the coup to oust Theresa May and bring Boris Johnson to office. Following Johnson’s victory, he was then rewarded for this support by being returned to Cabinet as Education Secretary less than three months on from his sacking. Despite an absence of talent in any other regard, he had proved himself indispensable to Johnson by knowing how to count the parliamentary numbers.
For Johnson, that it was objectively and morally wrong for Williamson to have been returned to Cabinet simply did not matter, he had backed the right horse at the right time – with the negative consequences we see playing out now for pupils essentially inevitable from that point. Such is politics, and such is why we are so often in such a mess.