The power behind May

Gavin Williamson now occupies a strategically important ministerial post. Credit: PA

Shortly after the general election that cost Theresa May her parliamentary majority, I wrote and broadcast that Gavin Williamson had become the most powerful man in government - because the PM needed his skills to get Brexit and any kind of legislative programme through a truculent parliament.

Today he became even more powerful - as Defence Secretary, and with his deputy now his successor as chief whip.

He occupies a hugely and strategically important ministerial post. And it is believed - rightly or wrongly - that the Whip's Office will remain under his sway.

His cabinet colleagues and backbench MPs view him, with a mixture of resentment and awe, as far and away the most influential member of the government - on whom Theresa May will rely more than any other.

The new role will see the PM rely on Mr Williamson more than ever. Credit: PA

In his short parliamentary career (he has been an MP since 2010) he has never spoken at the despatch box as a minister. So his astonishingly rapid rise has caused enormous anger and resentment among MPs and junior ministers.

This was the reaction to his appointment of one formerly loyal MP: "She had a golden opportunity to do the right thing and appoint the right people to the right jobs. She’s just blown it and exposed herself as weaker than any of us thought. She’s being controlled by young men in suits. I now despair."

What for many MPs would have been the "right" appointment would have been to replace Williamson as chief whip with Anne Milton - who seems to be liked and respected by almost every woman Tory MP.

That appointment would - they say - have shown that May was now set, beyond any shadow of doubt, on changing the boys' culture in her party .

So not a good day for May. Any silver lining?

Well one minister told me: "There's no appetite to replace her, because that way lies chaos. We prefer a powerless PM to self-destruction".