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Accent is on ambition as CFI hosts Gavin Williamson

It is said the new Defence Secretary is angling to be Prime Minister, perhaps sooner rather than later.

    Gavin Williamson addresses a Conservative Friends of Israel reception on Tuesday evening (Photo: CFI)
    Gavin Williamson addresses a Conservative Friends of Israel reception on Tuesday evening (Photo: CFI)

    A Conservative Friends of Israel reception on Tuesday evening offered the first opportunity for community members to hear from Gavin Williamson, the ambitious new Defence Secretary.

    Barely 72 hours earlier he had been telling national newspaper readers about his regret over kissing a colleague at the fireplace company he worked for 14 years ago. The episode reportedly almost cost him his marriage. 

    An interesting week then for him to turn up cracking jokes about the attractions of female IDF soldiers. 

    Describing his only trip to Israel so far, at the age of 13, Mr Williamson told the crowd: "What I found was a liberal, free, exciting country, that was so at ease with itself. A country that absorbed and welcomed so many people.

    "That made an enormous impression on me. As well as your female defence forces."

    Cue laughter from the audience.

    Mr Williamson’s North Yorkshire accent — he was born in Scarborough — is intriguing on the ear. He’s a 41-year-old with the voice of a 70-year-old, the pattern of which is best described as being a cross between William Hague and Alan Bennett. 

    The former Tory Chief Whip did say all the right things about cooperation between the British and Israeli militaries and was afforded a warm round of applause.  

    It is said he is angling to be Prime Minister, perhaps sooner rather than later. Certainly he was keen to work the room, making sure plenty of CFI supporters had a chance to meet him and no doubt rush home to tell their friends.

    Stephen Crabb, the group’s relatively new chairman, was also there, making one of his first public speaking appearances after lying low following his own sex texts scandal.

    The evening, unlike CFI’s pre-Christmas annual lunch, was not a major event. But it attracted a decent turn out, including a smattering of middle-to-low ranking Tory MPs on a busy night in Westminster.

    If nothing else, it was another step in the rehabilitation of CFI’s reputation following the damaging Priti Patel affair.

    After all, the number of MPs, staff and visitors with a strictly kosher diet working in Westminster could be as low as single digits most days. But that misses the point entirely.

    Because it is the mind-set behind the decision which is most chilling.

    Nameless officials have taken it upon themselves to get together with animal rights lobby groups — which are hell-bent on curbing the freedoms of religious minorities in this country — and devised a secret policy under the cover of an excuse about “ethics”.

    The government’s position has long been clear on non-stunning, and the rights of Jews and Muslims to carry out religious slaughter are well-protected. 

    While local councils, schools, leisure centres and others have often introduced their own bans — usually targeting halal meat — this feels rather different.

    To discover that the sale of kosher products has been forbidden at the mother of all Parliaments, the visual and physical heart of our democracy, is deeply concerning.

    A successful, female leader forced out by what she called “sexism, bullying, undemocratic behaviour and outright personal attacks” from elements within her own Labour Party.

    A good friend to the Charedi community in the north London borough, Ms Kober’s loss will be felt by many people. 

    Her almost inevitable replacement by a hard-left candidate loyal to Jeremy Corbyn will probably be replicated on other Labour councils nationally. 

    What does that say about the state of British politics — and its future?

    •  This week I met Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski for the first time. At 6ft 8in he is the country’s tallest MP. At 5ft 3in I am quite probably the country’s shortest political editor. 

    Thankfully the meeting took place with us sitting down and there is no photographic evidence.

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