United Kingdom

HENRY DEEDES witnesses the Education Secretary causing diplomatic carnage

Doubtless you are familiar with those disaster movies in which a doomed jet plane, engines aflame, spirals towards an unforgiving ocean.

Cut to the cockpit where we find our pilot pawing helplessly at the controls. His teeth clenched, his eyes bulging. Sweat cascading down both cheeks.

This is the face Downing Street handlers pull whenever Gavin Williamson is doing the morning media rounds.

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You can just see them can’t you, huddled around the office wireless as the Education Secretary hurtles downwards into another self-induced fireball. ‘Pull up Gav!’ they cry in unison. ‘Pull up! For gawd’s sake, pull –


So why they allowed him to go on Nick Ferrari’s LBC breakfast show yesterday is anyone’s guess.

As students of his convivial interview technique will know, Mr Ferrari could lure a Russian mountain leopard from its rocky lair with nothing more than a ball of wool and a few miniatures of Bailey’s Irish Cream. 

So getting gormless Gav to make a plonker of himself was going to be a cinch.

The question which caused all the trouble was an innocuous one. 

Ferrari simply asked whether the reason the UK had got the Pfizer vaccine ahead of the rest of the world was, as Matt Hancock had claimed, because of Brexit.

HENRY DEEDES: Williamson gobbled the bait like it was a juicy wriggler on the end of a hook

Gav paused. Over in Downing Street, you could hear those nervous aides shouting responses at the radio: ‘Say we’re just grateful to have got it!’ – ‘Pretend the line’s gone dead, you fool!’

Naturally, their cries went ignored. Williamson gobbled the bait like it was a juicy wriggler on the end of a hook.

‘I just reckon,’ he said in that weedy voice, ‘we have got the very best people in this country.’ Oh crumbs.

 ‘And we have obviously got the best medical regulators, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.’ Double, treble, quadruple crumbs.

Williamson was smiling. Like Prince Andrew during that God-awful Newsnight interview, he seemed unaware of what a berk he was sounding. 

Then just when you thought no more diplomatic carnage could be wreaked, he added: ‘That does not surprise me at all because we are a much better country than every single one of them!’

Dear me, what a cretin. At the Department of Education, spads began hooking themselves up to oxygen tanks. 

That sound you may have heard? Hernias collectively popping down Whitehall. Meanwhile, Ferrari shot his interviewee a beaverish grin, one of those wide, satisfied ones that yells: ‘Gotcha!’.

HENRY DEEDES: Williamson was smiling. Like Prince Andrew during that God-awful Newsnight interview, he seemed unaware of what a berk he was sounding

After that performance, it’s possible Gav’s ministerial car was confiscated for the day. 

When he appeared in the Commons a couple of hours later to make a statement on next year’s exams his hair was doused in rain.

What a turgid session it was. Lots of talk about performance data. Like being stuck in a stuffy teachers’ common room. 

It is at least to Gav’s credit that his opposite number Kate Green’s only complaint was that the Government’s proposals were ‘very late coming, very late on’. 

This is the sort of meaningless thing Opposition MPs say when they can’t find anything else to complain about.

Unlike class clown Williamson, Ms Green does at least benefit from a scintilla of headmistressy authority. 

Her curt, rather joyless manner speaks of stern dressing-downs of over-indulgent mothers and awkward chats with the faculty over tepid cups of Nescafe.

You may recall she replaced Rebecca Long Bailey over the summer after she was sacked by Sir Keir Starmer. Sacked before Williamson! Some achievement, that.

Speaking of which, porcelain puppet Becky made an appearance. 

She’d uncovered a survey which claimed 80 per cent of teachers didn’t think they could teach their pupils this year’s syllabus in time for the summer exams. Blimey. 

A survey which claims teachers think they’re overworked? A collector’s item, surely.

Gavin drawled it was ‘nice to see her again’. He’s a charmless fellow, Williamson, he really is. 

Like John Bercow, even when he says something complimentary his words are coated in a strange, sickly goo.

Holly Lynch (Lab, Halifax) told Williamson she had recently asked headteachers in her constituency their opinions of him, but couldn’t repeat them since their language was ‘unparliamentary’. 

After yesterday, I dare say a few people in Downing Street would sympathise.

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