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.