As a longstanding military man, Gavin Williamson will have immediately seen it as a bit of a catch-22 situtation.
You’re Gavin Williamson, you want to give a speech about how Britain is a great country and shouldn’t be afraid to bomb the s*** out of anyone. Trouble is, everyone watching you saying over and over again that Britain is a great country will also see that the man in charge of Britain’s armed forces is a former fireplace salesman who could not strike fear in to a bowl of Rice Krispies. Britain would be a great country if only Gavin Williamson got his way, but if Gavin Williamson got his way, Gavin Williamson would be in charge of it. So it wouldn’t be a great country at all.
In fact, there’s a lot of this catch-22 stuff going around. For example: you want to get out of being prime minister because you’ve clearly gone insane. But if you’re sane enough to show you’re insane by making Gavin Williamson defence secretary, then you’re not insane after all.
Anyway, with 46 – yes that’s 46 – days till Brexit, Britain’s toy defence secretary gathered a small crowd of defence bods together to tell the world that Britain is big and strong. That Gavin Williamson looks, sounds, thinks and may very well indeed be a 12-year-old boy has been unfortunate for some time. But never has it been more unfortunate than when reading out a long list of Britain’s latest bits of defence procurement. Britain, we learned, now has “two amphibious assault ships that can come together as one deadly amphibious assault force”.
Sometimes, in the political sketch-writing business, the similes can be somewhat strained. Not on this occasion. It’s not so much that it was like watching an excited little boy explain the functionality of his show-stopping Christmas present to a bored grandparent on Boxing Day. It’s that the speech only finished an hour ago and I am already struggling to prevent it from merging in my memory with precisely that incident.
Indeed, the challenging bit is to try and compute that all the available evidence strongly suggests that this was real life. That it really was the defence secretary up there, coming out with this stuff, issuing grave sermons about Britain’s place in the world “since September of the 11th” (yes, he really did say that).
He was here to say that Britain “should not be afraid to use hard power”: in other words, that little Gavin is not afraid to play with his toys. If we did not do so, Britain would be seen as “a paper tiger”. Oh Gavin. How to put this? We’re not even a paper tiger. We’re a paper Gavin Williamson.
He spoke at great length about the need to be “innovative”, to show, in other words, how less can be more. In that sense, and only in that sense, arguably he did not disappoint. Little Gavin knows there’ll be a Tory leadership contest soon, and he will be considering himself in the running on that front. Less certainly can be more. He, quite possibly more than anyone else on planet earth today, will certainly not be constrained by his own limitations.
At one point, he stood there, ostensibly with a straight face, and declared that “We should be the nation people turn to when the world needs leadership.”
To which the only possible response is: “Pahahahahahahaahahahaahahaahahaahaahaha. *pause. inhale* Pahaahahahahahahahaahahahahahahaha.” I mean I could go on.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed Gavin, but you could send your brand new amphibious assault ships in all their Mighty Morphin Power Rangers glory straight up the white cliffs of Dover with explicit instructions to seek out leadership and they would come back with absolutely nothing. If there were any leadership in Britain, it would not have a defence secretary that says things like, “Russia should shut up and go away.”
We are currently the nation the world turns to when it’s in need of a good laugh, and to be fair to little Gavin, he more than pulls his weight on that front. It’s possible this will not always be Britain’s place in the world, but one thing will have to happen first. We will, finally, have to work out that our future simply does not lie in deluded fantasies about Britain leading the world. It lies in precisely the same place as our recent past, as a small but great country, amplifying its position in the world through showing leadership in the institutions of the European Union.
Anything else is just surrender dressed up as bravery. Little boys playing with their toys. We’ll get there in the end, but we will have to do it the hard way, and by the time it happens, little Gavin and his little friends will be long gone, though never quite forgotten.