Both the media and the Labour frontbench are outraged about Gavin Williamson’s alleged abusive behaviour – but both seem happy to indulge bullying when it’s the right people being bullied.

To believe that Rishi Sunak didn’t know perfectly well who (and what) Williamson was would stretch credulity well beyond breaking point. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images)

Anyone hankering after another fix of Tory chaos after the brutal defenestration of Liz Truss didn’t, it turns out, have long to wait. Gavin Williamson—reappointed to the cabinet only on 25 October—was forced to resign from it on Tuesday (8 November) amid a welter of bullying accusations. Most damningly, Williamson is accused of telling a senior civil servant to ‘slit your throat’ during his tenure as defence secretary under Theresa May, a role from which he was ignominiously forced to resign after leaking security information.

Predictably, Williamson was hung out to dry by Rishi Sunak as the Westminster denunciation machine cranked into gear. Sunak pointedly refused to back Williamson as the allegations mounted both in number and severity, and from then on it could be only a matter of time before the latter’s resignation followed. Williamson was condemned for his ‘unethical and immoral’ behaviour—surely a prerequisite for becoming a Tory minister—and accused of intimidating his colleagues when serving as the party’s chief whip.

To believe that Sunak didn’t know perfectly well who (and what) Williamson was would stretch credulity well beyond breaking point. Oliver Dowden, a senior Sunak ally, admitted as much when he confirmed that the Prime Minister had already been informed of the bullying allegations surrounding Williamson when he reappointed him to the cabinet. But with Williamson having been a Tory chief whip, it’s safe to assume he knows precisely which skeletons are rattling around whose closets—making him a potentially risky enemy.

Williamson, of course, deserves all the opprobrium that’s been heaped upon him. But at the same time, the stench of hypocrisy emanating from his colleagues on either side of the House of Commons is overpowering. The idea that Williamson is merely a bad apple is self-evidently absurd; there have been so many bad apples on the Westminster benches—on both sides of the Commons—in recent years alone that at some point, you have no alternative but to conclude that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the barrel itself.

The grandstanding from Keir Starmer and the Labour Party was therefore difficult to stomach. Starmer went all in on Williamson at Prime Minister’s Questions, branding him a ‘pathetic bully’ and a ‘sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him’. Given Starmer’s domineering treatment of his own left-wing colleagues and those remaining rank-and-file party members who refuse to toe the line, he would do well to remove the mote from his own eye before pointing out the beam in anyone else’s.

Starmer’s high-and-mighty routine was swiftly undermined by Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, moments after PMQs ended. Jeremy Corbyn, having been smeared again by Sunak (now a weekly occurrence), rose to make a point of order; as MPs filed out of the chamber, Streeting was recorded sneering that Corbyn had ‘gone senile’. Dementia is the leading cause of death in the UK; the fact that the shadow health secretary thinks it’s a joke ought to be worthy of his resignation—but we can’t expect the Labour right to live up to the standards it haughtily demands of others.

This is all part of a long-established pattern of behaviour. Starmer has, at best, sat on his hands while his factional allies hound out left-wing MPs. Apsana Begum has detailed a long campaign of alleged harassment by right-wingers in her constituency party, which forced her to take an extended period of sick leave. Begum’s own so-called comrades dragged her through the courts on entirely bogus charges in their efforts to unseat her; even when she was exonerated of them, Starmer offered no solidarity, maintaining a petulant silence instead.

The plethora of evidence of despicable behaviour by right-wing party staff presented in the Labour Leaks report, largely backed up by the subsequent Forde Report, hardly needs recapitulating here. Suffice it to say that people who turn a blind eye when their factional allies joke among themselves—when they think nobody else is watching—that young socialists should ‘die in a fire’, or who revel in the mental anguish of left-wing MPs, have no business whatsoever issuing prissy, self-righteous lectures about others’ conduct.

Al-Jazeera’s recent series, The Labour Files—based on an enormous trove of leaked documents, emails and other data—once more illustrated the contempt with which right-wing Labour bureaucrats treated socialist party members, both during the Corbyn years and after. The response to the series from the media at large was one of near-total silence; as the Labour left has been demonised to the point of pariahdom, the standards of propriety which journalists are usually so concerned to uphold evidently do not apply to socialists.

For all the sanctimony about Gavin Williamson, then, he is only a symptom of a much deeper malaise: a rotten system and a sick political culture, where bullying is routinely rewarded when it’s the right people being bullied. It speaks volumes that this includes decent, earnest people who made the mistake of taking the rhetoric of parliamentary ‘democracy’ at face value and who tried sincerely to improve their lives through it, only to find themselves driven off the public square so that the creeps, thugs and careerists of Westminster could resume their parlour games uninterrupted.

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