Belfast Telegraph

New Defence Secretary Williamson impresses by clipping the Chancellor Hammond's wings

Finally, a member of the Cabinet who's prepared to say what he, and much of the country, really thinks. Who'd have thought it?

By Chris Moncrieff

A political typhoon has suddenly burst in on the heart of the Cabinet in the form of new Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who promises - or threatens - to blow a gust of realism into the Westminster scene.

Williamson, the former Chief Whip, was barely known outside Westminster, but within days of his new appointment, he was making big headlines throughout Fleet Street, including a reported spectacular bust-up with Chancellor Philip Hammond.

He has reprieved "military" dogs who had been sentenced to death now that their service had finished. And he has warned British jihadist terrorists that they would be hunted down and eliminated.

But, above all, he has been bold enough to tell Hammond he could take no more "freebies" using RAF aircraft until he had paid the bill for previous trips. The bill was immediately paid.

This move apparently followed a reported row between the two Cabinet ministers, in which the Prime Minister had to intervene, telling them to grow up.

Williamson's problem - although it should be regarded as a virtue - is that he says, in plain, uncluttered English, what most of the country thinks.

Yet, surprise, surprise, he is being branded "childish", even by some of his own colleagues, for expressing such views as those he expressed about British jihadists.

That's the trouble with Westminster-speak: politicians tend to tiptoe around issues with feeble euphemisms, rather than charging into the heart of the matter and saying bluntly what they really mean.

So, when someone like Williamson - who kept a tarantula spider on his desk when Chief Whip - speaks his mind without shilly-shallying about, he simply shocks traditional parliamentarians, yet is applauded by the public at large.

Williamson is a force of nature, whose talents were recognised by David Cameron and Theresa May.

He is the man to blow away the cobwebs of obfuscation which bedevil the British political scene.

He will bring a gale of fresh air to the proceedings and could before long be included in the bookmakers' lists as a possible successor to Theresa May.

A bit far-fetched perhaps, but Williamson's ambition is like a coiled spring about to be released.

Watch this space.

What is it about politicians who play fast and loose with taxpayers' money and seem to think - often correctly - that if they repay their excesses, that is the end of the matter?

A shoplifter in Tesco does not enjoy that "perk"; he doesn't get the opportunity to repay what he has stolen and his offence is then forgotten about.

Lord Bassam of Brighton has quit as Labour's Chief Whip in the House of Lords after questions were raised about his expenses.

He was receiving money which was supposed to be used to pay for overnight accommodation in London, when, in fact, he was travelling to his home in Brighton.

The amounts involved came to thousands of pounds and his lordship has offered to make repayments.

He said he had abided by the rules, although admitted he could have dealt with the issue in a more appropriate way. That was big of him.

And, if it is a fact that he abided by the rules, then the rules should be toughened up - and without delay.

But didn't his conscience, or even his common sense, warn him that he was not possibly acting within the spirit of the (plainly faulty) rules?

There is now indisputable evidence that large sums of British aid abroad is falling into the wrong hands - even into the hands of people and organisations which would do harm to the UK and to other democratic countries in the West.

This is, of course, an intolerable situation and a huge test for Penny Mordaunt, the new International Development Secretary.

Ms Mordaunt, who has a Royal Navy background, has shown herself to be a no-nonsense minister in the lower ranks. Now she needs to get a grip with this scandal - and I think Theresa May has every confidence that she will.

Of course, Britain should always come to the aid of those starving and in dire poverty.

But it is intolerable that these pay-outs are apparently so badly monitored that money is falling into the hands not only of undeserving people, but, worse, to those who are our enemies.

What makes it worse is that, at the same time, British nurses and other public servants are suffering under a tight pay-cap.

Let there be no more delay.

Way back in 1963, I was deeply involved in the saga of John Profumo and Christine Keeler, who has just died.

I always felt sorry for Keeler: she was a young, hugely impressionable woman, who was disgracefully exploited by powerful and ruthless men twice her age (and more). As she has since said, she enjoyed that period, but if she had known what was going to happen as a result, she would "have run off and not stopped until I reached my mum's home".

Those sordid and seedy events destroyed Keeler's life, destroyed Profumo's career (that was his own fault) and destroyed Harold Macmillan's Tory government.

What are we to make of the "breakthrough" achieved by the Prime Minister in her early-morning dash to Brussels last week, with her mumbling Brexit Secretary, David Davis?

Reaction to it has ranged from "triumph" (Mrs May's own entourage) to "humiliation" (Nigel Farage, former Ukip leader).

It has received general approval from most Brexiteers, although few of them seem to be over the moon about it. And even some Remainers have registered grudging approval.

However, when the normally hard-faced Brussels negotiators seem pleased with it, I think you have to be wary.

But, then, I am only an old cynic.

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