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by David Runciman and Catherine Carr

What Does Jeremy Think?


This week we talk to Suzanne Heywood about her memoir of her late husband, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood - the man who helped to run Britain for more than two decades, working with four different prime ministers. From Black Wednesday to Brexit, from the Blair/Brown battles to the surprising successes of the Coalition, Jeremy Heywood had a unique position at the heart of British politics. We discuss what he did, what he learned and what he wished had turned out differently. 

Talking Points:

The book starts with the ERM crisis.

  • This was the start of a story that arguably runs through Brexit.
  • Jeremy told David Cameron that he would need to address immigration with Europe, but he knew that this would be difficult.

Blair had a huge parliamentary majority; this meant he could do many of the things that Jeremy wanted to see done.

  • Jeremy was positive about how much had been achieved, particularly in public services.
  • Progress was more difficult under Brown. The financial crisis created enormous strain.
  • Jeremy and Gordon Brown worked very closely together on the financial crisis.

During political transitions, all the ‘in-flight’ initiatives pause. Any one of them may or may not land as you previously expected.

  • As a civil servant, you also have to be able to switch your personal loyalties.
  • The change in style between governments can be significant. New administrations come in with a new language, a new tone.
  • Civil servants have to keep the show on the road, and also adapt.

At what point do civil servants have to swallow their personal objections and get on with things? 

  • Ministers represent the electorate; civil servants support ministers in delivering on their promises.
  • Civil servants can push and make certain arguments, but once a decision is made, they have to move forward with implementation.

Jeremy’s real genius was in relationships.

  • He inspired people; they wanted to do their best for him.

Mentioned in this Episode:

Further Learning: 

And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking


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by David Runciman and Catherine Carr