Magazine article The Spectator

I Am in Charge

Magazine article The Spectator

I Am in Charge

Article excerpt

Sir Jeremy Heywood is the man who really runs the country

He needed 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 frontline 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 Cameroons 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 soigne, someone-take-care-of-that PM.

The Cameroons 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 | 17 march 2012 | www. …

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