Well, Gavin Williamson, erstwhile Defence Secretary (of all people) turned out to be the leak. At least according to Mrs May. It was like something out of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He had to go. Yet he protesteth his innocence vociferously. He swore on the life of his children. That reminded me of the time Mr Gummer got one of his kids to eat a hamburger on telly during the Mad Cow Disease crisis. I think they should keep the kids out of it. Don’t swear on anything or anybody. As Our Lord said, let your yea be yea and your nay be nay.
Mr Williamson’s last act as Defence Secretary was to meet with the submariners at Faslane. But by the time they held the controversial service at Westminster commemorating 50 years of Trident, Penny Mordaunt had taken over. She had been Secretary of State for International Development, and her place (it’s a bit like trying to solve Rubik’s Cube) was taken by Rory Stewart. It’s not that long since Mr Stewart took over the prisons, swearing to sack himself if he didn’t solve the drugs and violence crisis. That pledge seems no longer to pertain. Meanwhile, John McDonnell the Shadow Chancellor is telling us that Mrs May herself is a mole, leaking confidential information from the Tory-Labour meetings trying to find a path to Brexit. But there’s no readily available means of sacking Mrs May, much to the chagrin of Iain Duncan Smith.
I’ve never been able to understand cabinet reshuffles. How can you head up a department for a few months and then jump ship and head up another? How can you possibly master each brief? At least the civil service can keep things ticking over while you’re trying to mug the stuff up. Look at Stormont! No government for more than two years now. And life – well, with one very notable exception – goes on. I can contrast that (I’m sure you can too) with my (your) own professional experience. If I didn’t turn up for work, either in the Emergency Department or the General Practice Surgery, even for one day, there would be pandemonium. Harms would ensue; some of them might be fatal. This was why I and my colleagues would often, no doubt ill-advisedly, drag ourselves into work when we felt like death, because we didn’t wish to place an intolerable burden on our already overstretched colleagues. The idea of not turning up for two years? Well, after about three days, as we say north of the border, I would have got my jotters.
Back at Faslane, the safes in the nuclear subs hold the Prime Minister’s “letters of last resort.” You can read about them in The Silent Deep, The Royal Navy Submarine Service since 1945 by Peter Hennessy & James Jinks (Allen Lane, 2015). When the balloon goes up, big time (as becomes apparent when Radio 4 ceases to broadcast,) three submariners read the PM’s letter to find out what to do. In the broadest terms, I suppose this must be an order either to retaliate, or not. But I wonder if this is nothing more than a piece of propaganda, all part of the bluff-and-grope strategy of a nation state wishing to appear belligerent and slightly unbalanced. You could hardly conjure a modus operandi less democratic than to have the PM in the isolation of Chequers take a decision, over a Ouija Board for all we know, about how to bring the world to an end full of bangs and whimpers. Apparently she doesn’t need to run it by anybody or even let anybody (the three submariners aside) know her decision.
But to return to the porous National Security Council, I’ve heard it suggested that Mr Williamson was indeed the leak, only he doesn’t know it. I imagine political journalists are rather adept at extracting information from people. They are not so much constructing a story from scratch, as filling in missing pieces of a jigsaw. They might interpret an involuntary facial tic as a nod and a wink. I know, again from my own professional life, how easy it is inadvertently to betray a confidence without noticing. When people go phishing, you have to be on the highest alert. Fortunately I was assisted in this by my appalling memory for names. I could remember the lesion, but don’t ask me who it belonged to.
When Mr Williamson swore on the lives of his children, somebody phoned the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 to say that that proves he did it. But I don’t think you can draw any conclusions from it one way or another. Personally, I think it was the tarantula.