This first week back for MPs, my column, and all Courtauld students was shaping up to be a suspiciously peaceful one, that was until the usual anarchy of politics burst back onto the scene on Wednesday with the surprise sacking of Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson from the Cabinet. This came after the previous week’s leak to The Telegraph that the government intended to choose the tech firm Huawei to build and manage the UK’s new 5G system – by all accounts, 5G is apparently like 4G but one higher and therefore better, or something like that?
So far so simple, no big deal you might think, the government (particularly this government) leaks to the press all the time and no one bats an eyelid. Well, on this occasion the leak didn’t come from Cabinet but from a meeting of the mysteriously named National Security Council (NSC). The NSC is a small group of important politicians and civil servants that includes the heads of all the security services (MI5, MI6, GCHQ, etc.) and the Defence Secretary, presumably alongside James Bond, Dame Judi Dench and Austin Powers. The idea is that an NSC meeting is a safe space where top secret information can be exchanged without the danger of it becoming public. Therefore, a leak such as happened is basically treason.
Illustration by Rhiannon Powell
On the face of it, the leaked information about Huawei seems pretty tame, but if you look under the surface you discover that Huawei are a shady bunch. The electronics company was set up under Chairman Mao and still exists as a wing of the communist government of China, recent international investigations have revealed that Huawei has been recording and storing user data from all its systems – from mobile phones to national digital infrastructure – and if Huawei have that information then the Chinese government has that information.
On a side note, The Courtauld’s very own Chairman, Lord Browne, happens to also be the Chairman of the UK branch of Huawei…just thought you might like to know…
However, in their almighty wisdom, May’s government still thinks it’s a good idea to allow this wing of the government of China to build and run this country’s new, vital communication networks. Clearly, someone on the NSC disagreed and leaked the info to the press. The government launched an investigation into the leak and on Wednesday found their very own Defence Secretary guilty and thus threw him out. Williamson denies any involvement in the leak and is willing to fight any case the government brings against him. Up until this week Williamson was one of the few friends May had in her cabinet, he ran her campaign to be Tory leader after all. Throwing him out may have been a poor decision, especially if, as sources suggest, he is planning to execute his revenge in the form of an attacking speech in the Commons in the style of Geoffrey Howe, whose resignation speech precipitated the fall of Maggie Thatcher from No.10. So, watch this space!
Thursday was election day! No, not a general election, or a referendum, or a London Mayoral election, or an EU election. In fact, there wasn’t even any voting here in London… or in Wales… or Scotland. No, this is the English and Northern Irish local council elections! Wait… come back… please, they are actually quite interesting. You see many people around the country chose to use their votes in this election to express their frustration with the current state of Westminster politics… and boy did they!
Normally, at this point in the electoral cycle, you’d expect the Tories, having been in government for nine years, to lose heavily to the Labour opposition. But, as you may have noticed, we do not live in normal times. This week both parties got a hammering losing hundreds of seats between them, meanwhile, the Lib Dems (yes, remember them?) won big with (at the time of writing) a gain of more than 450 seats. Things were good too for the Green Party, up at least 150 seats and, rather satisfyingly, UKIP suffered heavily at exactly the time when they thought they could rise to prominence again, down more than 80 seats at time of writing.
This shows the extent to which people are fed up with the two major parties and has interesting implications for the EU elections in two weeks. Although ‘Change UK: The Independent Group’ and Nigel Farage’s new ‘Brexit Party’ were not running in these elections, they will be in a fortnight and, if these results are anything to go by, could do well in mopping up all the voters disaffected by Labour and the Tories.
The BBC took great pleasure in describing the results with the phrase ‘a plague on both your houses’ through their coverage and I can only agree – maybe a good old-fashioned plague is exactly what we need to bring the country together? Anything is worth a go at this stage.
Mind how you go.