Sue Cameron is a journalist on the Financial Times who specialises in painting a picture of senior mandarins as all-knowing and jolly clever and so much better than those terrible politicians they have to work for. As a succession of Cabinet Secretaries have found, her column is something of a guarantee of reputation-building for life, with Robin Butler today’s favoured former Numero Uno in a little item giving his assessment of Mrs Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair.
There is also an unspoken irony to her work, coming as much of her materiall does from anonymous sources who complain regularly about the politicians and their advisors who, shock horror, say things to journalists.
Anyway it makes for a nice life for Sue, a former colleague of mine at Today many years ago, and gives the great and the good some nice pink cuttings for their friends to see.
But today the usual prism of mandarin v politician is broken and she presents a tale of strife and woe between Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell and Jeremy Heywood. Let me declare an interest – I know and like them both.
According to Sue, Jeremy is in bad odour with his colleagues because he failed to stop the Prime Minister lumping in senior civil servants in his misguided and not terribly impressive ‘enemies of enterprise’ speech recently.
And she says ‘the rift [with Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell] goes deeper because Mr Heywood is widely seen in Whitehall as puffing himself up in the media.’ She then goes on to quote The Times, The Guardian, The Economist and the Spectator as having recently written words of praise for Jeremy.
One (as ever un-named) source (again with the irony of the situation not acknowledged) is quoted as saying ‘Heywood is the least popular civil servant in Whitehall because he’s been leaking stuff to the press about his own starring role in Cameron’s Number 10.’ Odd for the source to feel they have to remind a senior FT journalist that Cameron is the occupant of Number 10, but hey ho.
I suspect I know Jeremy Heywood a bit better than Sue, having worked with him for many of the years I worked for Tony Blair. And if he is busy puffing himself up in the press, then I fear he has had a personality transplant, and I doubt that has happened. He was, and certainly still is, a very hard-working, incredibly bright and committed civil servant, and it would not surprise me at all if ministers and others new to Number 10 said as much to journalists and others in the Whitehall village. Nor would it surprise me if Cameron has come to lean on him, as John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done in different ways in the past.
Perhaps the real reason he is getting it in the neck this morning is that in fact he doesn’t play the media game of talking behind the boss’s back, and is likely to think that an hour at his desk is time better spent than a quick lunch with Sue.
In any event both he and Gus have seen enough of division at the top to know that it is never a good thing, and the only people who enjoy it tend to be opponents and journalists, or sometimes people lower down the food chain with an eye on jobs above them.
Whilst there is a place for undisclosed sources in journalism, this has a strong odour of jockeying for position whilst attemptiing to remove the “king”. We all like a good story, but skullduggery and mischief making adds to the distrust we feel in “lazy journalism”
Spelling mistake – first line, second paragraph.
I had Today on subscription for a while during the period you worked for it alongside with brilliant the Sunday Times and always interesting the Guardian.
I enjoyed Today a lot. Today was published between 1986-95. It was a middle-market tabloid with just the right mix of news and entertainment.
Today´s main rivals were the Daily Mail and the Daily Express. The Wapping paper was a pioneer which forced Fleet Street to introduce electronic production and colour printing.
Today was launched by Eddy Shah. Then Lonrho bought it. In 1987 News International purchased it.
Editors included David Montgomery and Richard Stott.
I remember reading a column by you on Burnley FC!
I have not seen i newspaper by Independent, but it seems already to have a circulation of 170,000. It does not cost much, and is aimed at people who do not have much time for newspapers. I hope it will be a success and introduce also new readers to quality newspapers as well.
I also liked the Sunday Correspondent.
I have written an unpublished book on the history of Fleet Street with special emphasis on how Today and Mrs T´s new laws changed Fleet Sreet.
The publisher told me that it was otherwise OK, but did not have a market here in Finland.
My book about British TV and radio comedy was accepted for publication, but then the publisher told me that it did not have resources to publish it. I am currently thinking about writing an updated version including The Thick of It.
Has this gibberish some sort of point Mr Campbell?
Rather than you PR and Press chaps writing about each other in a way which matters not a jot to the man in the street, why do you not review Panorama on phone hacking, and give us some insight into the world of the “Dark Arts”.
Can you honestly tell us that No 10, under control freak Blair, had no idea that all this was going on. If so, the security services should be disbanded as useless, for either not knowing about it (impossible to conceive of), or not informing No 10, (even less conceiveable!)
We should be told.
It’s a typo rather than a spelling mistake. We all make them and they’re not always easy to edit.
Well said, Dave Simons. I can’t believe some of the negative comments just lately on AC’s blog.
What with the chaos in the Middle East and the dire situation in Japan.
I can’t help but think that the world is “going to hell in a handcart” and yet there are people going on about so called spelling mistakes and other piffling things.
AC is a born writer, but sometimes it must be difficult even for him to come up with something interesting every day. It’s not as if he has to either. Most of AC’s readers are appreciative of him taking the time and trouble to blog at all.
Whitehall mandarins live in a world of their own – a planet of their own. Quite frightening they are in their oxbridge particular establishmant brainwashing upbringing, previously from eight to eighteen even more frightening “Public” Schools. Yes, frightening.
Anyway, Dom Joly in a bar in the outback of Oz – a classic clip,