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Men of Secrets VI

John Rentoul

heywood 300x219 Men of Secrets VII think this is a first. An on-the-record video interview with a serving Cabinet Secretary. Sir Jeremy Heywood was actually interviewed, by Anthony Seldon, in March last year, but the wheels of the Cabinet Office in giving clearance for publication have been turning slowly and thoughtfully and only now has the mechanism clicked and the green light turned on.

The interview is one of a series under the auspices of the Mile End Group, which has set up a Cabinet Secretaries website, featuring interviews with all five living holders of the post, to which is now added the sixth, with the incumbent.

The website includes a transcript of the Heywood interview. Some of the highlights:

Anthony Seldon: How does one tell the difference between a real crisis and a peripheral crisis?

Jeremy Heywood: It depends whether it survives more than one news cycle.

This interview was possibly the first time a Cabinet Secretary has discussed how BlackBerries fit into the British constitution:

AS: Does the BlackBerry enhance the work of the Cabinet Secretary? And how did these people cope before BlackBerries? Or was life easier?

JH: I think life was easier in some ways. Definitely the pace of government has increased and I think BlackBerry contributes to that and facilitates it in some ways. I have this argument with my wife the whole time as to whether holidays are better with BlackBerries or not. In the olden days, you know, you could go, not so olden actually, maybe 10 years ago, you could go a whole day without really thinking about work but you’d have a looming sense of all the things that you didn’t know about back in the office and so that would ruin the evening and you’d have several phone calls and probably spend your whole evening catching up. This is my theory. Whereas if you’ve got a BlackBerry you can just do little bits of work during the day and have your evenings free. My wife doesn’t necessarily agree with that, but…

AS: She thinks that that is just a bit of excuse?

JH: If she had her way she’d probably take both my BlackBerries and throw them in the sea.

Sir Jeremy was asked about the difference between working in the City and in Downing Street.

JH: They’re not as different as you might think. I mean certainly, having spent most of my career in the civil service, to go and try and become an investment banker required quite a lot of mental agility and lots of new learning, and there’s some very, very clever people who work in banking, investment banking, working on very complicated products, possibly too complicated, and giving serious high integrity advice to corporate leaders, much the same way as we give high integrity advice, I hope, to political leaders. So many of the same core skills are required, but fundamentally banking is about making money for your clients, and therefore for your bank, and therefore for yourself, whereas money doesn’t really feature in the motivation of people working in Downing Street. Anyone working in Downing Street could triple, quadruple their money if they wanted to but they’re there because they want to serve the Prime Minister and the government of the day.

Heywood’s description of Gordon Brown’s handling of the G20 summit in London in 2009 is reminder of that Prime Minister’s qualities:

My clearest memory of that was seeing the British Prime Minister basically cajoling, I won’t use the bullying word, but he pushed through a incredibly ambitious communiqué when leaders were straggling back from lunch and hadn’t quite sorted themselves out, they didn’t have their Sherpa advisers behind them, and Gordon just basically seized the moment before any of the officials were in the room really, to go through the communiqué line by line, get approval, and it was a remarkable feat of diplomacy. I’m not sure I would call it diplomacy but it was very successful. And we ended up with an extraordinary set of decisions which I think even the leaders themselves were shocked they had agreed, but the momentum of the moment carried it and I think that was a really important moment for the world economy, and it was good to be a part of it actually.

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  • porkfright

    So let me get this right. The Parliamentary Reform Act was in 1832, and the first on the record interview with a serving Cabinet Secretary is released in 2014. Anyone else totally gobsmacked-or is it just me?

  • Pacificweather

    Two in one day John, you are a superstar today.

  • Pacificweather

    Gobsmacked it only took 182 years? You bet I am. My money would have been on 200 years.

  • mightymark

    Based on the quoted passages we haven’t been missing much!

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