Gavin Williamson: Britain′s ambitious new defense secretary | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.11.2017
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Gavin Williamson: Britain's ambitious new defense secretary

For many years, his claim to fame was keeping a pet tarantula under his desk. Gavin Williamson's rise to power has been rapid — but his latest promotion has enraged many of his Conservative colleagues.

He has zero military experience, never run a government department, and — to much of the British public — is hardly even a household name.

So pundits and politicians alike were understandably surprised when Gavin Williamson, the Conservative Party's top parliamentary enforcer, was unexpectedly appointed to the office of defense secretary on Thursday.

It is the second speedy promotion for the 41-year-old backbencher, who was first elected to Parliament in 2010. Williamson served as an aide to former prime minister David Cameron from 2013, before becoming Prime Minister Theresa May's "chief whip" — and one of her closer allies — in July last year.

He replaces Michael Fallon, the former defense secretary, who resigned late on Wednesday amid a series of sexual harassment claims swirling around Westminster.

Allegations of misconduct leveled at other senior Conservatives, including Secretary of State Damien Green, have raised further fears for May that her government may soon topple.

Political promotion

The former head of the British army, Richard Dannatt, questioned Williamson's experience and described the promotion to BBC News as a "political" one on May's part. "She has moved her trusted chief whip [to become defense secretary]. That's all about bolstering her position within the cabinet."

As chief whip, Williamson was responsible for maintaining internal discipline among Conservative members of parliament — ensuring lawmakers toe the party line when voting.

Though his role kept him out of the public eye, Williamson's success behind the scenes gave him great influence in the upper echelons of the Conservative Party. He is credited with helping to secure the 1 billion pound ($1.3 billion, 1.1 billion euro) deal between the Conservatives and their coalition partner, the Democratic Unionist Party, in the aftermath of a disappointing election result in June earlier this year.

A number of British newspapers including the Guardian and New Statesman reported off-the-record conversations with Tory parliamentarians who expressed their distaste for Williamson's promotion.

Sarah Wollaston, a fellow Conservative MP, was one of the few to publicly voice criticism, in a tweet sent on Thursday.

But Conservative MP Bob Stewart — himself a former army colonel — suggested to the BBC the move would not cause problems in the military. "[Williamson] won't know much about defense but I believe the civil service in the Ministry of Defense, the generals and the armed forces themselves won't mind that too much because he's the sort of person that will listen carefully, take advice but then make his own decision."

Gavin Williamson, who studied social sciences at the University of Bradford, worked as the managing director of an architectural design firm before entering politics.

Until recently he was perhaps best known for the pet tarantula, named Cronus, which he keeps under his desk at work. He told the Telegraph newspaper he raised it from a spiderling. "I have a very paternal sort of approach. It's very much the same sort of love and care that I give to my spider as I give to all MPs," he said in November 2016.

But in a speech at the Conservatives' party conference earlier this year, Williamson showed a slightly more sinister side.

"I don't very much believe in the stick," he told delegates, "but it's amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot."

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