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Steerpike

Cometh the hour, cometh Sir Gavin?

Cometh the hour, cometh Sir Gavin?
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Perusing the list of declared Boris-backers yesterday, Mr S was struck by the omission of several high-profile names. The erstwhile uber-loyalist Matt Hancock for one: the former Health Secretary was previously one of Johnson's most ardent supporters, in his desperate bid to return to the cabinet. But even more intriguing than the womanizer of West Suffolk's silence was the lack of any kind of public statement from Sir Gavin Williamson, South Staffordshire's answer to Sir Francis Urqhart.

Sir Gav of course played a key role in the fortunes of two Tory premiers. In 2016 he was reported to have 'privately vowed' to stop Boris Johnson's bid to become party leader, instead offering his services as parliamentary campaign manager to Theresa May. When she duly triumphed, she made him Chief Whip and thereafter Defence Secretary. Williamson was fired from that post over a leaking incident in May 2019, but returned to cabinet two months later as Education Secretary. May was out and Johnson in.

In that contest Williamson played the same role for Johnson that he did for May three years earlier, working in tandem with Grant Shapps to build up the Old Etonian's support among Tory MPs. Despite his loyal services, Sir Gavin's fate under Johnson was the same as that under May: he was fired as education minister last September, though given a knighthood as compensation. Since then he has been reborn as a Somaliland independence hero, embracing the cause with the same relish as his love of parliamentary number-crunching.

Now, though, with Johnson wounded and support dwindling, could a shock return be on the cards? Despite much excited talk in No. 10 of the return of Shapps's spreadsheet last week, all signs suggest those in Tory high command are not as in touch with parliamentary opinion as they might otherwise like to think. Williamson might not be a great reforming secretary of state but he does know how to count. And given the number of enemies Johnson now finds himself facing on the backbenches, bringing back one of his more politically astute rivals could prove to be invaluable in the weeks and months ahead.

You might think that but of course Sir Gavin couldn't possibly comment...

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to steerpike@spectator.co.uk or message @MrSteerpike

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