This week we talk to Suzanne Heywood about her memoir of her late husband, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood - the man who helped to run Britain for more than two decades, working with four different prime ministers. From Black Wednesday to Brexit, from the Blair/Brown battles to the surprising successes of the Coalition, Jeremy Heywood had a unique position at the heart of British politics. We discuss what he did, what he learned and what he wished had turned out differently.
The book starts with the ERM crisis.
- This was the start of a story that arguably runs through Brexit.
- Jeremy told David Cameron that he would need to address immigration with Europe, but he knew that this would be difficult.
Blair had a huge parliamentary majority; this meant he could do many of the things that Jeremy wanted to see done.
- Jeremy was positive about how much had been achieved, particularly in public services.
- Progress was more difficult under Brown. The financial crisis created enormous strain.
- Jeremy and Gordon Brown worked very closely together on the financial crisis.
During political transitions, all the ‘in-flight’ initiatives pause. Any one of them may or may not land as you previously expected.
- As a civil servant, you also have to be able to switch your personal loyalties.
- The change in style between governments can be significant. New administrations come in with a new language, a new tone.
- Civil servants have to keep the show on the road, and also adapt.
At what point do civil servants have to swallow their personal objections and get on with things?
- Ministers represent the electorate; civil servants support ministers in delivering on their promises.
- Civil servants can push and make certain arguments, but once a decision is made, they have to move forward with implementation.
Jeremy’s real genius was in relationships.
- He inspired people; they wanted to do their best for him.
Mentioned in this Episode:
- What Does Jeremy Think? Suzanne Heywood
- The Talking Politics Guide to … Being a Civil Servant
- ‘Remembering Jeremy Heywood,’ in The Guardian
- Bronwen Maddox reviews Suzanne’s book for the FT
- From our archives… The Next Referendum?
And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
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