Mr Williamson, the Education Secretary, has faced calls for his resignation after A-level results caused furore up and down the country. When the coronavirus lockdown meant students were unable to sit exams this year, Mr Williamson introduced an algorithm which was supposed to accurately predict each student’s exam result. However, the Education Secretary claimed he was “incredibly sorry for the distress” his system had caused students after 40 percent of results were downgraded by exams regulator Ofqual.
He has performed a complete U-turn and agreed to revert to teacher assessed grades for Year 13 pupils, following mass student protests — this system will now be used for GCSE results this week, too.
His climbdown has raised questions for the Education Secretary’s future, with a former senior policy adviser to the Department for Education Sam Freedman saying he “can’t think of many other education secretaries who wouldn’t have already resigned”.
Yet, this is not the first time Mr Williamson has caused a stir within the Conservative Party.
He was hired as Theresa May’s Chief Whip from 2016 to 2017 — bucking tradition, he had not sat as a cabinet minister beforehand and had only been an MP since 2010.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Prime Minister Boris Johnson
The Prime Minister is being urged to sack Gavin Williamson over the A levels debacle
Journalist Rowena Mason claimed that his “rapid rise to the top” was assisted by his “naked ambition and a penchant for theatrical power play” in a profile of the Tory when he worked under Mrs May.
Ms Mason added: “Many Tory backbenchers are unimpressed with the promotion of someone they see as slippery and a Government toady who has deliberately cultivated an image as a modern-day Machiavelli.”
Writing in The Guardian, she claimed: “He is best known within SW1 for keeping a tarantula called Cronus in a glass box on his desk, seemingly to intimidate MPs who have stepped out of line.”
Around this time, Mr Williamson raised more eyebrows when he told his colleagues at a Conservative Party conference: “I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.”
The Education Secretary has been heavily criticised for supporting the use of an algorithm to designate students’ grades
Another cabinet minister described him as a “chop-your-head-off type of man”.
Interestingly Ms Mason noted that Mr Williamson won Mrs May’s trust when he stepped in as “the most effective stop-Boris candidate” and he became her campaign manager in 2016.
He was appointed as the Defence Secretary in November 2017, but was asked to resign in May 2019 after confidential information from the National Security Council was leaked regarding Huawei’s addition to the UK’s 5G network.
Johnson’s majority hopes given huge boost by Scottish Tory [INSIGHT]
Piers Morgan admitted he was ‘wrong’ after election prediction [EXPLAINED]
Nicola Sturgeon accused of post-Brexit ‘lie’ by fuming Tory candidate [COMMENT]
Williamson has faced mass protests from disgruntled students over the results
Theresa May appointed Williamson as her chief whip when she got into office
He refused to step down, insisting he was not guilty of the leak, leading Mrs May to sack him.
Mr Johnson then controversially appointed him as the Education Secretary last July.
After Wales announced it would not be using the algorithm for students’ GCSE grades, more than 25 MPs from Mr Williamson’s own party joined in with those asking Mr Johnson to review the A level situation, including Cabinet Office minister Penny Mordaunt and Defence minister Johnny Mercer.
While Mr Johnson said he had confidence in Mr Williamson, one Tory MP told The Telegraph that “the vultures are circling for Gav”, although they added that the politician “is a master of finding someone else to chuck under a bus”.
Camilla Tominey also noted in The Telegraph this week that the Education Secretary was “currently considered bottom of the ministerial class of 2020”.
She added that some speculate he has survived because, as former chief whip, he knows where “the bodies are buried”.