Sir Jeremy Heywood – Adored By Blair Brown and Cameron – He Knows Just Where the Bodies are Buried

October 11 2011: Peter Oborne, Daily Telegraph chief political commentator. No, Mr Cameron, Jeremy Heywood is not the man to lead the Civil Service

In 1999 the Blairites needed allies inside the system, and fortunately there was one to hand. They were always hostile to outsiders, and at first the prime minister’s private secretary, the young and ambitious Jeremy Heywood, was regarded with suspicion. But with the passage of time Heywood was accepted as a vital member of the group of allies around Blair. Indeed, he was to play a central role as the disciplines of government collapsed and the “sofa culture” of Downing Street reached its peak.

Ordinary procedures, such as minute taking, appear to have partly ceased. This became embarrassingly apparent when the Hutton inquiry into the death (murder or suicide) of Dr David Kelly sought to reconstruct the process which had led to the Ministry of Defence scientist’s name appearing in a national newspaper. Lord Hutton heard how some four meetings, each involving senior officials and cabinet ministers, had taken place in the 48 hours before Dr Kelly’s name was released. In an extraordinary breach of traditional Whitehall procedure, it emerged that not one of these meetings was minuted. This was Heywood’s job, and it was not carried out.

But it was not just basic procedures that failed with Heywood in Downing Street. Standards of integrity stalled too, as The Daily Telegraph discovered when we ran a well-sourced story revealing that Downing Street had pressed for Tony Blair to be given a bigger public role in the Queen Mother’s funeral of early 2002. Heywood wrote a letter to this newspaper, in his capacity as private secretary to the prime minister, insisting that the report was “without foundation”. To say the least, this was being economical with the truth. fundamentally, he had crossed the key dividing line between unbiased, public-spirited official and careerist political adviser.

Tony Blair, naturally, adored his private secretary and, in another blatant abuse of Civil Service rules, sought to rocket him to permanent secretary level. When this move was resisted, HEYWOOD JUST VANISHED. Granted “unpaid leave” from the Civil Service, he suddenly emerged as co-head of the Morgan Stanley investment banking division, only returning four years later to help sort out Gordon Brown’s chaotic Downing Street machine.

It is easy to understand why David Cameron – who personally chose Heywood – wanted him so much. Heywood is an old friend who knows his way all around Whitehall, and is expert at delivering what a prime minister wants. But that brief stint at Morgan Stanley aside, he has never worked outside Downing Street and the Treasury. Indeed, Heywood has no experience of the wider Civil Service, which makes his first big decision especially troubling.

Sir Gus O’Donnell (and nearly all his predecessors) combined the job of cabinet secretary with that of head of the home Civil Service. There have been very solid reasons for this, not least because it has meant that the Civil Service has a proper voice inside 10 Downing Street. Heywood has turned his back on this arrangement. Precedent suggests this decision will open the way to a long, unnecessary period of attrition between Downing Street and the outlying parts of government. It is a recipe for division and chaos.

David Cameron once boasted that he was the “heir to Blair” and his choice of Heywood suggests the comparison is all too apt. Heywood is a perfect manifestation of everything that has gone so very wrong with the British Civil Service over the past 15 years – too cosy a relationship between public and private, too much dominance at the centre, contempt for tradition and the collapse of due process.

In his foreword to the new ministerial code, published last year, David Cameron wrote that “after the scandals of recent years, people have lost faith in politics and politicians. It is our duty to restore their trust. It is not enough simply to make a difference. We must be different.” These are empty words, with Jeremy Heywood at the heart of government and guardian of British public standards.

March 17 2012 Sir Jeremy Heywood is the man who really runs the country

All he needed was a trilby and leather coat but there was something of ’Allo ’Allo!’s Herr Flick to the mandarin giving evidence at the Public Accounts Committee one recent afternoon. The PAC is parliament’s prime scrutineer of state spending. Civil servants have it dinned into their skulls to regard it with caution, if not respect. Yet this Herr Flick, with his little sticky-up fringe, his minimalist spectacles, his subtle pouts and sly smiles, conducted himself as a superior mortal. He toyed with the committee. He said he was there as ‘a courtesy’. The MPs should not expect him to make a habit of appearing before them.

This lean-livered, bloodless Brahmin was Sir Jeremy Heywood, David Cameron’s new Cabinet Secretary. He may long have flown under the radar but he has now acquired such power that public scrutiny is unavoidable. At the committee he appeared alongside burly, bearded Sir Bob Kerslake, new head of the Civil Service. The positions of Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service were once one and the same but fiddly changes have been made. As the meeting progressed it became clear who had emerged the senior partner after that bifurcation. Kerslake talked. A lot. A lot of not terribly much. Plainly he had been given the boring, admin part of the portfolio. Compact Heywood listened, aloof, stroking his narrow lips. He spoke sparingly, vouchsafing information with the economy of a gardener using a laboratory pipette to water his bonsai tree. Sir Jeremy was in control.

Astonishingly, this was Heywood’s first proper public grilling. To make it to Cabinet Secretary without submitting to this parliamentary wringer is like becoming head chef at the Savoy without ever having cooked quenelles. But Jeremy Heywood is not a front-line Freddie. He has been a Treasury high flier, head of policy at the Cabinet Office, a fixer for prime ministers since John Major. He has never run a big-spending department. Far too exposed. Please. That sort of thing is for the bungling Bob Kerslakes of this world.

Sir J. Heywood is a backstairs Bertie, a smudger, a whisper-in-the-PM’s-ear sort who shrivels from public view. The worry for Conservatives, and the rest of us, is that this shrewd murmurer, this eminence grease, has acquired unprecedented power over not only the Prime Minister but also Nick Clegg, Cabinet, the coalition and much of the rest of the state apparat.

There is talk of Heywood obstructing secretaries of state, shafting Camerons and organising Downing Street to his own convenience. We have gone beyond ‘Yes, Minister’ and now have ‘Yes, Sir Jeremy’. Worryingly, no one seems more in hock to him than our soigné, someone -take -care – of – that PM. The Camerons are dying like bees. Andy Coulson is long gone. The Wade-Brookses have also been swept away by Hackgate. Other parts of the Chipping Norton set are in retreat. Steve Hilton is fleeing to California.

Heywood remains. He is steering policy, attending daily strategy meetings, sitting next to ‘DC’ at Cabinet, shimmering with purpose. If Heywood disapproves of a project, it disappears from Cameron’s in-tray. One Cabinet minister says, “We cannot have a referendum on who runs Britain because the answer will be the same whether we leave the EU or not: Jeremy Heywood.” And what is Sir Jeremy’s agenda? Well, that’s a complicated question, Minister. He’s certainly no friend of the Tory heartlands or of the right wing of the PM’s party. Though Heywood presents himself as a reformer his mission seems to be to make sure no bill has a discernibly Tory twang. He’s also a stickler for European law, much energised by the importance of keeping the Lib Dems sweet. It is almost as if his main job, these days, is to keep Nick Clegg happy. To those readers who still hope the PM will one day show himself a sturdier Conservative, I’m afraid the truth (as a Westminster insider rather indelicately puts it) is that, “Heywood has Cameron by the balls, but as it’s anyway in Dave’s nature to do whatever he’s told by civil servants, that suits everyone!”

July 12 2013: Is Sir Jeremy Heywood squeezing out Whitehall’s top mandarin?

This morning’s car ride to work shared by Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood and Civil Service chief Sir Bob Kerslake may have been a rather silent one. Today’s Independent reports that Sir Bob’s job is under threat. Although the newspaper blames David Cameron for wanting to get rid of, “Bumbling” Bob. What does Heywood think? Sir Jeremy may silkenly protest his innocence of any plotting, and Downing Street indeed was officially denying the story last night, but he is not averse to the odd bit of Whitehall manoeuvring. Kerslake had taken some of the Cabinet Secretary’s old powers. The Londoner would never want to cause disharmony in the Whitehall limousine the two chaps share on their daily commute from the suburbs (how convenient for Heywood to be able to keep an eye on his colleague in this way) but there are some people who think Sir Jeremy has not been the most vocal advocate for Sir Bob.


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