Not for the first time, gaffe-prone Gavin Barwell’s technical competence and ability to play by the rules have been called into question, after the Downing Street Chief of Staff’s latest bumbling display managed to cause further disquiet among Tory MPs in a week when the Government of interim Prime Minister Theresa May has been falling apart.
Until the General Election in June, Barwell was the Conservative MP for Croydon Central. Roundly rejected by his constituents, somehow within days he had walked into a cushy job at No10.
Barwell’s role is supposed to be to smooth the path for the PM, but as Channel 4 News’s political rottweiler, Michael Crick, noted last night, Barwell appears to have been creating further difficulties by breaking strict rules on the conduct of special advisers in Whitehall.
“Doesn’t this tweet, and others, breach the Code for Special Advisers which says you ‘must not take public part in political controversy’?” Crick asked his social media followers last night. It is most likely that Crick knows the answer to his question, and that’d be a “yes”.
Crick had spotted that Barwell responded to a Labour MP’s goading of the Tories’ failure to deliver on their economic promises. Instead of eliminating the deficit by 2015, the Conservatives have more than doubled it. Responding to Ian Lucas, Barwell had grumbled on Twitter during PMQs on Wednesday lunchtime, “Create huge mess then complain about how long it’s taking your successors to clean it up…”.
Barwell might soon be wishing that he’d continued to restrict his post-MP’s career social media activity to promoting the local branch of Nando’s.
In his seven years as a Tory MP, Barwell was regularly admonished for breaking the rules over his conduct. It has never been clear whether this is because he behaves with a reckless arrogance, or simple incompetence. He was also twice investigated for serious breaches of election expenses rules.
Wayward SPADs, special advisers, as Barwell is now, tend not to be granted as much leeway and are regarded as more disposable than elected MPs.
And incompetent ones are undoubtedly a political liability, something a floundering May could well do without.
Barwell’s bungling with digital technology had become the stuff of legend in Croydon. Barwell was ridiculed for perhaps revealing his own browsing history in the “dating Arab girls” fiasco, when the MP tried to grandstand over a Labour Party press release.
And the Tory MP was made a laughing stock when his own gobby fac totem, Mario Creatura, admitted publicly that, “Gavin’s not the most technically minded person. He generally has no idea. He trusts me to do whatever.”
So Tory MPs, already running scared around the corridors of the House of Commons over who will get the shove next following Michael “Cold Hands” Fallon’s forced resignation, did not appreciate the clumsy text message that appeared on their phones yesterday.
“Tory MPs concerned their numbers given to pranksters after they all got this message,” the Westminster reporter of a tabloid newspaper wrote, alongside a picture of the text:
Now “Gavin” is not a common name among MPs, especially Tory ones. But it was possible that the “Gavin” mentioned in this message could have been Gavin Williamson, who until he was handed the defence secretary’s job yesterday was the chief whip and Tory enforcer in the Commons.
But lobby reporter Harry Cole also tweeted another message, which referred to “GB’s phone”, which suggests it could have come from that other Tory Gavin, Barwell:
With her government falling apart, Brexit a disaster and her cabinet in crisis, how long can May continue having someone with the technical competence of Mr Bean bumbling around inside No10?
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