Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

This week marked seven years since I agreed to quit my civil service career to become a political adviser to Gordon Brown, and three years since I was forced to quit that new role in shame. Following my resignation, I put my last vestige of professional pride into denying the chasing media pack the chance to put a camera in my face. My home was surrounded, so I spent seven nights staying with different friends in London, on occasion having to escape over fences or inside car boots when the pack found me. I learned two main lessons from this experience, besides not sending scandalous emails: first, switch your mobile phone off when not on the move - I was tracked down whenever I didn't - and second, introduce yourself to any neighbours even if only staying one night.

The first time you meet shouldn't be when asking to crawl out of their window.

I will always recall an article from that week describing me as the most unemployable man in Britain. I was certainly at a low point then, and very lucky that my old teachers at Finchley Catholic High School, and later Cafod, were willing to give me a second chance.

Both told me that, when they received my applications, deciding whether to consider me became as much a test of their own morals as it was a judgment on mine. I've seen those same morals in action every day at Cafod this week, not least in the sacrifices people have willingly made during Lent to help others, and it is a truly uplifting experience. Someone asked me at the weekend what I'd say if someone offered me my old job back. I used to joke: 'Why on earth would they?' This time I said: 'Why on earth would I?'

That said, my years in the Treasury have left me a Budget addict. And looking at the ongoing coverage, weeks after the statement, reminds me of the pitfalls of the process. In the run-up to a Budget, all manner of ideas are submitted.

Each viable idea is called a 'starter' - and no 'starter' ever disappears from the record. Even if it is firmly rejected early in the process, it still lurks waiting to be recalled in case of an emergency. I read George Osborne's first two Budgets thoroughly, eager to see what fast ones my old civil service friends had managed to pull on the new Chancellor. I was gravely disappointed. These were highly disciplined Budgets - all but the most carefully considered starters seemed to have been stripped out. …

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