Why? Because. Priorities, innit.
No matter war in Ukraine, the pandemic, the cost of living crisis, climate crisis, ‘parygate’, Tube strikes paralysing the capital and a host of other crises across the NHS, the police, judicial system and Brexit demanding the prime minister’s attention, Boris Johnson has decided now is the opportune moment to announce a knighthood for Williamson.
It’s just six month since soon to be Sir Gavin, 45, was sacked as education secretary having overseen the exams fiasco and repeated mishandlings throughout the pandemic. However, getting sacked has never held Williamson back. Theresa May fired the former fireplace salesman from his defence secretary role in May 2019 for serious misconduct, which he denies.
Within two months he was back in the Cabinet as Johnson’s secretary of state for education.
As before, Williamson failed. And as before, he has been rewarded for it.
Ex-whip’s knighthood has whiff of House of Cards
Given his history, questions as to why the tarantula-owning former chief whip is being honoured at all have raised even Tory eyebrows. But, as the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg remarked, Williamson’s knighthood might have quite a lot to do with dark secrets about colleagues he holds from his time as chief whip.
It has more than a whiff of House of Cards about it and an article in the Financial Times says “Williamson is widely feared in Johnson’s inner circle” due to his “’black book’ of secrets” collected when he was chief whip.
When asked about the timing of the announcement and why Williamson’s knighthood was announced on March 3 rather than as part of an honours list, Downing Street admitted it was delayed – due, the Telegraph reports, to Williamson’s “entanglement in the ‘partgate’ row” around the time of the New Year honours list. A No 10 “insider” said the honour has been extended for his “ political and public service”.
Shock, outrage and scorn have been expressed at Williamson’s knighthood, raising even more questions about Johnson’s leadership. The PM’s recent record of self-inflicted political wounds – for example his Peppa Pig speech to the CBI conference and using a Savile slur against Sir Keir Starmer in the Commons – adds further to the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ prognosis for his premiership.
“Reward for failure. Shameless,” was shadow secretary of state for health Wes Streeting’s withering assessment of the announcement.
Govt accused of waiting for Windrush generation to die
Further dismay at Johnson’s government was expressed during Thursday’s (March 3) Commons debate about compensation for the Windrush generation and their scandalous treatment by the UK government which deported many despite their having lived in the UK all their lives. Many more were egregiously blocked from accessing the NHS and welfare services, denied access to work and even places to live. The Windrush Compensation Scheme was launched three years ago but only 5% of an estimated 15,000 eligible claimants have applied – and only a quarter of them have received any money. That’s approximately 180 claimants, according to the home affairs committee report released in November 2021.
In the Commons yesterday, Labour MP Diane Abbot accused the government of “waiting for this [WIndrush] generation to pass away” because ministers are ignoring proposals to speed up the compensation scheme.
An estimated 23 people have so far died before receiving the compensation they are due. More will, given the bureaucratic failures that caused the issue still persist, as highlighted – once again – by MPs during Thursday’s debate.
Long Covid concerns
And more people continue to die with Covid. Although the trend since mid-January has been downwards, the latest figures show 720 deaths within 28 days of a positive test in the last seven days, taking the total number to 161,898. Where Covid-19 is mentioned on the death certificate, the numbers are 969 people number who have died in the past week – 183,579 in total.
Of increasing concern is the surge in numbers of people – especially those aged 35-49 – suffering with long Covid symptoms which has spiked by almost 200,000 in a month. Almost a million people in Britain say long Covid has negatively affected their lives, according to the latest ONS data.
One in 41 people in Britain – 1.52 million – are still experiencing symptoms four weeks after recovering while 685,000 say they still have symptoms more than a year after their recovery. Fatigue is the most common symptom with shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste also reported in significant numbers. Over 280,000 people say their ability to carry out day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot” by long Covid.
Much has happened since to make many wonder if Johnson should ask for a second opinion.