By Lord Ashcroft
Towards the end of a fringe meeting yesterday, I half expected to hear a band strike up Rule Britannia. It was an ungodly hour – before 9am on a Monday – and Gavin Williamson had spent 45 minutes or so choosing his words very carefully. At a ConservativeHome event to mark the publication of my new book on the state of the UK’s armed forces, White Flag?, he spied traps everywhere, skilfully sidestepping a series of awkward questions with classic Cabinet Minister-style platitudes.
Did cuts to the armed forces in 2010 go too far? He wasn’t going to admit that! Were government officials twitchy about his decision to send warships to the South China Sea? Best not risk upsetting civil servants by saying anything about that. Wasn’t the Treasury really lily-livered, privately warning him not to risk annoying the Chinese? Williamson wasn’t going there. No way was he risking a headline suggesting he was having a pop at Philip Hammond.
Asked about the UK’s place in the world however, and there was no stopping him (more…)