Voices: Rishi Sunak’s three imaginary virtues have taken two weeks to collapse

It’s taken a full fortnight, then, for Rishi Sunak’s new government of professionalism, accountability and integrity to have its first resignation. The highly professional, highly accountable but suddenly no longer integral Sir Gavin Williamson has had to go.

He has always been a unique figure, but never more unique than having become the first cabinet minister ever to be removed from three different governments, by three different prime ministers, within three years.

It’s allegations of bullying that did for him this time. Such professional, accountable behaviour as telling a member of staff to go and “slit your throat” and “jump out of a window”. Sir Gavin, knight of the realm and actual former education secretary that he is, said in his letter of resignation that “I refute the characterisation of those claims”.

Which is to say, he agrees he said the things in question, just not in the way they’ve been portrayed. When he told a civil servant to go and slit their throat, he was doing it in a nice, friendly way, apparently. It is also boring but necessary to point out that he doesn’t actually “refute” them. That would mean he had proven them to be untrue.

Usually, people say “refute” when they mean “deny’, but Sir Gavin, as always, is a very, very special case. He neither refutes nor even denies, he disagrees only with “the characterisation”, which is the sort of entirely vacuous language that his own A-level algorithm could work out is very much a U grade.

Naturally, this doesn’t make life very easy for Rishi Sunak. His very best defence is that he had no choice but to bring various demonstrable idiots back into government for the sake of party unity, to restore a semblance of order to the madhouse.

And yet, last night, one of his own MPs, the former deputy chief whip Anne Milton, was on television giving an interview detailing many of the horrendous things Gavin Williamson has done. She would not have been unaware of the inevitable consequences of doing this, and sure enough, two hours later, Sir Gavin had resigned.

That Tory MPs feel like they can give interviews that they know will break up the cabinet feels kind of familiar, doesn’t it? The new, professional, accountable era feels very much like the era it was meant to replace. It kind of all feels rather like, as someone once said, nothing has changed, nothing has changed.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Rishi Sunak was asked if he regretted bringing Sir Gavin back into government. “I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances,” he replied.

We, the public, are vaguely meant to believe that Rishi Sunak can’t possibly have known that the chap who’d already resigned twice, once for being the worst education secretary in human history, and once for endangering national security, might be something of a liability. That he somehow didn’t know that Williamson was, is and always has been the very, very obvious wrong ’un that absolutely everyone in Westminster knows him to be.

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The truth is that he didn’t care. That he wanted him around, just like previous prime ministers have wanted him around, being his usual grubby self, scheming, manoeuvring, doing things they’d rather pretend not to know about. But he can’t come out and say that, can he? Because that actually would be professional, actually accountable and require actual integrity, not the pretend kind that’s taken less than a fortnight to collapse.

After PMQs, the home secretary Suella Braverman went off to give a speech to a room full of senior police officers. She declined to breathe a word about Hertfordshire Police, who yesterday arrested and detained for five hours a radio news reporter for the crime of covering a climate change protest on the M25.

He must surely know that it is a matter of time before Braverman goes the way of Williamson. That the professional, accountable era can only really begin once she goes. But on the available evidence, he appears to have roughly the same amount of courage as he does his three other imaginary virtues. He’ll have to find a bit more of all of them, and as soon as possible.

In the meantime, he just looks ridiculous.