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Controversy as former education secretary Gavin Williamson knighted

Image: Getty

Widely criticised former Education Secretary following his handling of education during the Covid pandemic, Gavin Williamson was knighted this week.

The honour had been touted for several months, but the Prime Minister slipped out the news highlighting the Conservative MP’s “political and public service.”

Mr Williamson has held three Cabinet positions – Chief Whip, where he was moved to Defence Secretary. Mr Williamson was asked to resign from his position by the then Prime Minister, Theresa May following the leaking of confidential National Security Council information related to Huawei’s potential involvement in the UK’s 5G network. After many considered his frontbench career to be over, he was appointed education secretary by Boris Johnson in 2019. He is also regarded as having skilfully used his whipping skills to play a “kingmaker” role in the past two Tory leadership contests, helping Theresa May and then Boris Johnson to win.

“His record is astonishing and disgraceful.”

Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson

Mr Williamson also faced allegations of racism after telling a newspaper he had discussed the free school meals issue with footballer Marcus Rashford, having confused him with the England rugby player Maro Itoje, who is also black.

Widespread criticism:

Joint General Secretary of the NEU teaching union, Mary Bousted said: “Honours such as this should be a reward for honourable service and being effective and competent in your job. Well, no one could really say that Gavin Williamson was any of these.”

Shadow Cabinet Member and Former Labour school’s spokesman, Wes Streeting said the knighthood was “shameless” and a “reward for failure”.

Liberal Democrat MP, Layla Moran appeared to question whether Number 10 had given Mr Williamson the honour because, as a former chief whip, he may be privy to embarrassing ministerial secrets.

“One does have to wonder… does Williamson know where all the horcruxes are hidden… I can’t think of any other reason why he has been honoured for doing such an abominable job,” she tweeted.

The Shadow Education Secretary, Bridget Phillipson said: “Gavin Williamson left children to go hungry, created two years of complete chaos over exams and failed to get laptops out to kids struggling to learn during lockdowns. His record is astonishing and disgraceful.”

Final thought:

Unlike most Education Secretaries, Gavin Williamson became a household name – and not in a good way. His handling of education policy during the pandemic was widely panned by his supporters and critics alike.

Famously, the Care Minister answered “I do not know” when asked if she thought the Education Secretary was a racist following his confusion over which black sportsman he had met over free school meals.

It is certainly unusual for a Minister to have been sacked for leaking national security information and then return to government – it is even more unusual for them to be rewarded with a knighthood. There are plenty of other Ministers who have left government with phenomenal records in office and are yet to receive an honour.

There is a serious point, Mr Williamson’s honour is yet another example of our broken honours system. There is now a clear and urgent need for reform to restore credibility.

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