This is the Gavin Williamson reshuffle in more ways than one. Not only is he the new defence secretary, but one of his closest allies is the new chief whip.
Julian Smith was made deputy chief whip after the election and has worked hand in glove with Williamson in the whips’ office. His appointment means that the style and tactics of the whips’ office won’t change. It also means that Williamson’s power base in government has just dramatically expanded, a fact that won’t be lost on the new defence secretary’s possible leadership rivals.
Smith made news earlier this year when he told a meeting of government PPSs that those planning a leadership challenge must be ‘put back in their box’. He mocked Rory Stewart’s dinner party politics and told those present to inform on any minister who was putting themselves about in this manner. As one of those present told me at the time, ‘It was brutal. It was very old school whipping’.
I suspect that Smith’s won’t change his MO now that he is chief whip. But the question is whether this approach can work for long in a hung parliament where it is uncertain that the government has a Commons majority for its most important policy.