The Network The Secret World of Whitehall


The Network

Michael Cockerell reveals what really happens in the hidden power houses of Whitehall - the cabinet minister's private office, where advisers battle with civil servants.


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This programme contains some strong language

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This is the secret world of Whitehall.

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Decisions taken here behind closed doors affect all our daily lives.

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I'm telling the inside story of what has gone on over the years

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in the great institutions at the very heart of government.

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Tonight - how the hidden network of private offices operates.

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Every government minister has a private office

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run by a small team of high-flying civil servants.

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Their job is to manage the minister's professional life,

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and to protect, guide and inform.

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They told me, we have one allegiance. You.

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So, we fight your battles for you.

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We guard your back.

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What many people don't realise is just how intimate

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the relationship between the private office and the minister is.

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That intense loyalty to whoever is there, has to be seen to be believed.

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But also working with the private office are shadowy figures

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sometimes dubbed the people who live in the dark.

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They're the special advisers and unlike the neutral civil servants they're party political.

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And there have been many bloody power struggles waged

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within this most influential of Whitehall's secret networks.

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A job in the private office can be the route to the top

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of the civil service or politics if you're young and ambitious.

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20 years ago the Chancellor Norman Lamont's special adviser was one David Cameron,

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who was with him on Black Wednesday.

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Today has been an extremely difficult and turbulent day.

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Lamont had to resign as Chancellor after Black Wednesday,

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but David Cameron moved on to another top private office

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as special adviser to the Home Secretary, Michael Howard.

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There, his task was to advise Howard

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on political pitfalls and image presentation.

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Also doing the same thing as a special adviser in another ministry

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and then in Number 10, was the young George Osborne.

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He'd sometimes work hand in glove with Cameron.

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And do you think you've got a killer blow?

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Well, we certainly hope so. We're going to go and see.

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When New Labour came to power there were many more special advisers,

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-known in Whitehall as Spads.

-This is the study.

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Ed Balls was chief Spad to the new Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

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Another Spad learning his trade in the Chancellor's private office

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was the youthfully bespectacled Ed Miliband.

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'And a new class of person has emerged.'

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They're usually young graduates, often with no experience outside

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politics, who have come straight from university.

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Intellectually clever, enthusiastic, but I think that...

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I don't think it's added to politics.

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30 years ago, a TV satire showed how the top civil servant in the private

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office reacted to the intrusion of a political adviser.

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-Bernard Woolley, Principal Private Secretary.

-How do you do?

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-Mr Lloyd-Prichard, Assistant.

-Minister.

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-This is my political adviser.

-Yes, of course. Mr Weasel.

-Weisel.

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Yes, Minister was depicting with complete historical accuracy how

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the real private office civil servants sought to marginalise the Spads.

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-Where are we all going to?

-Well, you're going to your office, Minister.

-But what about Frank?

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He's being taking care of, Minister.

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-Wait here, sir.

-But this is the waiting room.

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-Precisely, sir.

-But I'm Jim Hacker's special adviser.

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The Minister now has a whole department to advise him, sir.

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Look, he needs me!

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Of course he does, but until the minister sends for you, would you be so good as to wait?

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Although special advisers are now an accepted part of the Whitehall scene,

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it's the civil servants who always have been and remain the beating heart of the private office network.

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When Alan Johnson became Home Secretary two years ago,

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he was taken to be introduced to the young civil servants

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who made up his private office.

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-Go on, Richard, do the honours.

-This is Natasha who does security and counter terrorism.

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Charlotte, hello.

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Gareth, how are you?

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-And Jenny.

-Nice to meet you.

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I think it was summed up by my very first private secretary.

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I said, I don't know where to start. What...do you do?

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He said I run your private office and the purpose of your private office

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is to be your corridor into the rest of government.

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You've got to understand, there are lots of civil servants

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that will come in to see you whose allegiance will be elsewhere,

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to their permanent secretary, to the Department, to Number 10.

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He said, we've one allegiance - you.

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So, we fight your battles for you, we guard your back,

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we convey what you want to the rest of the department and to the rest of Whitehall.

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It was five minutes, but it summed it up.

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What sort of civil servants get chosen to work in the private office?

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Bright people, high-fliers, people interested in politics and ministers

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and the private office becomes the golden ladder as it were,

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to the top, and if you look at some of the people that have

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become Permanent Secretaries and indeed Cabinet Secretaries, many of them

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have been Private Secretaries and principal private secretaries on the way up that ladder.

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Robin Butler was to become top mandarin after working long hours for three Prime Ministers

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in the Number 10 private office.

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'I first went in to Number 10 in 1972.'

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When I left, I found that

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I'd never seen my children in their school clothes.

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Because I left before they were dressed in the morning

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and I never got home before they were asleep in bed in the evening.

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In the ministries across Whitehall, the private office normally has pride of place in the building.

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'Doors opening.'

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There's a team of people out there, sitting at desks,

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who are my private office.

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'They're the people that work to you personally, and they really plug me

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'into the rest of the system, and they handle absolutely all of the day-to-day activity.

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'They also arrange my diary, moment by moment, day-by-day,

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'and it goes beyond that. Because they get to know what you really want to do,

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what your priorities are, get to know what the problems are out there, and help you do the job,

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which is your job, as smoothly as they possibly can.

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The private office is absolutely vital to a minister.

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They're the eyes and ears within the department, the two-way conduit,

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the gatekeeper to that Minister.

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They're the first source of immediate policy advice or communication advice

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before they then get the right officials in to advise.

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The other great thing about the private office is,

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it's the shock absorber of the system.

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Rather than a secretary of state for X going around to biff secretary of state for Y,

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because of some slight in the Cabinet Room, or some minute that's come through

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which is really designed to irritate, or subvert,

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the private office network has a chat amongst itself to try and soothe things.

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The private office goes back to the very first Prime Minister,

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Robert Walpole in the eighteenth century.

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His private secretary was the son of the earl of Dartmouth.

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Over the following two centuries, as ministries became more powerful

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and government more involved in raising and spending public money,

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the private office network developed across Whitehall.

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It was given a huge boost by Lloyd George when he became Prime Minister

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in the middle of the first world war.

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He decided on a total reorganisation of central government...

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a powerful new Number 10 private office was to be the command and control centre of Whitehall.

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And for the first time a record would be make of cabinet decisions.

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The national shorthand champion became Lloyd George's Private Secretary.

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'I was ushered into the Cabinet Room,

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'and there, I sat with the Cabinet Ministers around me, and I took shorthand notes.'

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It was the first time that any shorthand writer had ever

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been in that Cabinet Room to take a Cabinet discussion.

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And then, I typed it out on my typewriter.

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Starting with Sylvester's typewriter, Lloyd George made

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Number 10 the prototype for a private office in every Whitehall ministry.

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He'd recruited so many new staff to his private office

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that they'd be housed in temporary huts in the Number 10 garden

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that became known as Lloyd George's garden suburb.

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Over the years, the power of the private offices

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has grown in every ministry.

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They provide an unrivalled confidential network

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for the exchange of inside information and Whitehall gossip.

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And a job in the private office is the aim for every civil service high flyer in Whitehall

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that has traditionally been a hierarchical place.

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REPORTER: 'The pecking order in Whitehall is still very important.

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'The head of the department gets the big desk, a big chair, a thick carpet

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'and a very high-class secretary.

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'Note also that he has an individual coat stand and an old master on the wall.

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'His number two, however, gets a rather more functional map,

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'a smaller table and, as you will note behind his head, a mere peg on the wall for his coat.

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'But he has, at least, an individual if rather austere light, not just a supermarket strip light

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'like these two poor chaps who even have to share a room.

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'But I bet they both took double firsts and will both end up as ambassadors.'

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Every ambitious young civil servant feels the pull of the private office.

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Private office, I think this is probably one of the most interesting

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aspects of a civil servant's career.

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It means really acting as the link between the minister on the one hand

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and literally everybody else on the other.

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Members of parliament, other ministers. Members of the public.

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Local authorities, pressure groups, the lot.

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-A sort of protector of the minister.

-Yes, not always an appreciated protector,

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but nevertheless, a protector.

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It meant, of course, a constant runaround,

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but I was allowed half a day off to go and get married.

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And strictly on the works side,

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if you enjoy politics and seeing how they work and how the whole machine

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of government works, as I do, then I think you'll find it fascinating.

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What they require, is experience.

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Because they're all being identified as young, high-flying civil servants,

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expected to go a long way in their civil service careers and they seek

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having a tremendous close-up view of how government works.

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Wherever ministers go, they like to be in constant touch with their private office.

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Eric Varley, a Labour cabinet minister in the mid 70s,

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would communicate using state of the art technology.

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Alison, I wonder if all of the briefing is complete for Cabinet this morning?

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I wonder if I could have a meeting with officials before that, over?

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There's a possibility there might be a PMQ, which we'll keep in touch

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with parliamentary branch about.

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But I think also, the Prime Minister has questions this afternoon and he may get asked about it.

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The private office includes the diary secretary, a number of policy specialists

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and it's headed by the principal private secretary

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who's the main point of contact for the minister.

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I'm probably closer to him than any other civil servant in the department.

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I see everything he does, and I attend all his meetings.

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I try to see things through his eyes.

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I rather think that the role of the private office, so far as the civil

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service is concerned, is to wrap the secretary of state

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or the minister in cotton wool, keep tabs on him,

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to make sure that he's certainly informed, but also,

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to perhaps insulate him from a degree of reality from the outside world.

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But the private office's precise method of insulation can vary

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according to the minister's status,

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as one ambitious politician discovered in 1970.

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I arrived in this room, a very large room,

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completely empty of all paperwork.

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And I assumed somebody would tell me sooner or later

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what I was supposed to do. No-one did. And I sat there.

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They brought the coffee, and it was not for half-an-hour or so,

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and I read the papers - there were a lot of papers.

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Every national newspaper was available in my office for me to read.

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It's only about an hour-and-a-half later, that I really came to grips

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with the problem that I had to be a self-starter.

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I had to make it clear what I wanted to do,

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and the way I saw my job evolving.

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There was no induction course, no training, no guidelines.

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In many ways, that's one of the most critical moments of a minister's career, whether he ever survives

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that moment, when if he doesn't emerge and take a command of the situation,

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he'll simply become the victim of the mountain of paperwork that will flow across his desk.

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Basically, you were a bag-carrier, you were expected to attend minutes,

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meetings with your secretary of state and to listen,

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perhaps be asked for your opinion, but you had no real power and responsibility.

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You had a private office which reflected that,

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your private secretary was being trained as a civil servant in the experience of ministerial life.

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Nearly 40 years on, Gordon Brown made the businessman Digby Jones a minister.

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The Whitehall outsider was surprised by his private office.

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I very quickly put a piece of paper on my desk and I wrote

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on it as best I could, to put a word around the sound...

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HE INHALES

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So, there were lots of letters and exclamation marks, and I can remember

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my private secretary came in and said, what's that, Minister?

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I said, that's the most common sound I hear in this office.

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And it's about usually followed by the words, "Very brave, Minister."

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Or, "I wouldn't do that, Minister."

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And it's this...

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HE INHALES

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..because they're brought up to be risk-averse.

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Their job in the private office is to serve their nation

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through the Minister, to keep the Minister out of trouble

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and to keep the minister delivering on agreed policy. That's their job.

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But another key job of the private office is to scan the horizon and spot unexpected troubles

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especially when a minister is sent to a newly created department.

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'My principal private secretary rang me up and said,'

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"You'll be getting your first day briefing and all of that."

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He said, "Has the Prime Minister mentioned to you about changing the name of the Department?"

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I said, yes, he did say something about productivity and science.

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He said, "Could I just go through with you what the Department is due to be called?

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"It's due to be called the Department of Productivity, Energy -

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"which is usually described as EN,

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"Industry and Science."

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He said, "You'll be the Secretary of State for PENIS."

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I said, oh, gosh, that doesn't sound very good.

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So, I said, what can we do about this?

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'They had unscrewed Department of Trade and Industry signs from outside Victoria Street.

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'Fortunately, they hadn't put the new name up yet.

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'So I kind of stopped any further work on it before I went to see the Prime Minister.'

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And I said, do you mind if I raise something with you, Prime Minister? The name of the Department?

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He said, what's the problem? So I explained it to him.

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I said, the Department for PENIS, I'd be the secretary of state for PENIS.

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He said, well, let's change it back.

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And all these people sat around, he says, whose idea was this?

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Talk about, success has many parents and failure is an orphan.

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And no-one said anything. He said, well, let's just change it back to the Department of Trade and Industry.

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So I came out of that meeting with my first great victory.

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But, really, because I was alerted to it very early on by my principal private secretary.

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When David Blunkett was made Education Secretary in 1997,

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he was the first blind Cabinet Minister.

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And his Principal Private Secretary Alun Evans had worked out in advance

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how to make Blunkett's ministerial life easier.

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We did have a bit of a glitch, because I'd ordered through

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my officials, a state-of-the-art Braille machine which converted

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word documents into Braille and David Blunkett didn't often use Braille,

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but he did for formal set pieces like statements to Parliament

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or briefings to the Prime Minister.

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And the first briefing to the Prime Minister we duly produced in Braille in the first week,

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had we handed it to him with about five minutes to go before the meeting, as often happens

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last-minute, and he grabbed it and went into Number 10.

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What we hadn't realised was that the Braille machine was made in Sweden

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and had a switch on the back of the machine which switched from English to Swedish Braille,

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and we'd handed him a word-perfect copy of Swedish Braille briefing on education policy.

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He winged it and did it very well.

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It must have been something of a surprise for him as he was trying to...

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Well, it was, he found a bit of hurdy-gurdy smorgasbord on the text in front of him.

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Peter Mandelson had a succession of private offices across Whitehall,

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before ending up as first Secretary of State at the department of business innovation and skills.

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The private office and the private secretaries play

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an absolutely crucial, seminal, professional,

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I mean, really brilliant role in this...

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It's a joy to work with them and to see that sort of dedication

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and working around the clock, and that intense loyalty to

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whoever is there, you know, it's to be seen to be believed.

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In his private office, Mandelson goes through his diary.

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Marie.

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-I'm going to Nottingham tomorrow, yes.

-Yes.

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There's a reception tomorrow night.

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Oh. How annoying.

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Is there anything you wanted to do on Friday, specifically?

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I want it to be my time.

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My thinking time. My thinking time.

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My world.

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The key coupling in the private office was described by

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Benjamin Disraeli, the Victorian Chancellor and Prime Minister, a century and a half ago.

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He said, "Relations between the Minister and his private secretary

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"are, or should be, among the finest that can subsist between

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"two individuals, except for the married state".

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What many people don't realise is just how intimate

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the relationship between the Private Office and their minister is.

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You do form a very close relationship

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with your private secretary.

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The foreign secretary Douglas Hurd and his principal private secretary John Sawers

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would go for early morning swims at international conferences.

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Sawers is now head of MI6.

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I used to get my private secretary into a sort of discipline,

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getting up early for a swim.

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Sometimes it was extremely cold,

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but it sharpens up your body and mind.

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The private office is very beguiling.

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It is a very hot-house environment.

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You live on very close terms

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with your minister, your Secretary Of State

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and that's the most important person in your life.

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And some civil servants, when they enter into private office,

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can become too close to the minister.

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A sensational example of a Private Office relationship too close

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happened in the '60s.

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John Vassall was a private secretary to the Navy Minister.

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He was revealed as a KGB spy

0:20:570:20:59

who'd been entrapped by the Soviet Communists in a homosexual sting.

0:20:590:21:03

His minister at the Admiralty was Tam Galbraith,

0:21:030:21:07

an aristocratic Tory.

0:21:070:21:09

The revelation that the minister had sent his private secretary letters

0:21:090:21:14

beginning, "My Dear Vassall..." caused a scandal.

0:21:140:21:18

Amid lurid rumours, Galbraith resigned

0:21:180:21:21

saying, "My long accustomed manner of dealing with officials

0:21:210:21:24

"has become an embarrassment."

0:21:240:21:26

Vassall was jailed for ten years for spying for the Russians,

0:21:260:21:31

while Galbraith was exonerated by an official enquiry.

0:21:310:21:35

Alan Clark was one of Mrs Thatcher's ministers.

0:21:400:21:43

A renowned womaniser,

0:21:480:21:50

Clark revealed in his diaries, which were later dramatised,

0:21:500:21:53

how he lusted after

0:21:530:21:55

his principal private secretary.

0:21:550:21:58

"Jenny Easterbrook - sexuality tightly-controlled.

0:21:580:22:02

"She makes plain her feelings on several accounts

0:22:020:22:05

"without expressing them."

0:22:050:22:08

Do you take dictation?

0:22:080:22:09

-No, minister.

-Shorthand?

0:22:090:22:12

I am an official, not a typist.

0:22:120:22:14

The Enterprise Allowance Scheme, Job Release Scheme,

0:22:140:22:18

Community Scheme.

0:22:180:22:19

They will expect you to have at least some knowledge of those,

0:22:190:22:23

even if you can't fully get to grips with them.

0:22:230:22:26

What is wrong with two human beings of the opposite sex

0:22:290:22:35

feeling attracted to each other?

0:22:350:22:39

I don't see how that can be scandalous.

0:22:390:22:41

For some reason, all the attention seems to be on her.

0:22:410:22:45

Sequins, that's what you need!

0:22:450:22:48

As Secretary Of State for Wales,

0:22:480:22:51

William Hague fared better than Alan Clark.

0:22:510:22:53

He and Ffion Jenkins his Private Office secretary

0:22:530:22:56

fell in love and they got married.

0:22:560:22:58

The one thing the private office does,

0:23:040:23:06

and I think does brilliantly actually, is it's loyal.

0:23:060:23:10

You do know they will come in and they'll close the door

0:23:100:23:14

and tell you where they think this wasn't your finest moment,

0:23:140:23:17

or indeed, "Let's equip you for what's hopefully a finer moment tomorrow."

0:23:170:23:22

But they are on your side

0:23:220:23:24

and they see their job as serving their country through this minister.

0:23:240:23:27

The Private Office is a vital part

0:23:270:23:31

of the ability of a minister to run his or her department

0:23:310:23:36

and to carry out policy.

0:23:360:23:38

Essential to it is a relationship of trust

0:23:380:23:42

and what I think is so remarkable

0:23:420:23:44

is that in all the years I have been in politics,

0:23:440:23:47

I can think of no instance at all

0:23:470:23:51

of a private secretary breaching that trust

0:23:510:23:53

by telling stories about his minister or her minister

0:23:530:23:57

to the newspapers,

0:23:570:23:58

to television or the media.

0:23:580:24:00

If they do, it's so wonderfully private

0:24:000:24:02

that nobody ever discovers.

0:24:020:24:04

One remarkable episode that was kept completely secret by the Number Ten Private Office

0:24:050:24:10

happened in the summer of 1953.

0:24:100:24:14

It involved the Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

0:24:140:24:17

He suffered a severe stroke and was no longer able to function.

0:24:170:24:22

Churchill's Private Office decided

0:24:220:24:24

that the outside world must be kept in the dark

0:24:240:24:27

and conspired with the powerful press barons.

0:24:270:24:32

The Tory MP Bill Deedes,

0:24:320:24:33

who was soon to become a Churchill minister,

0:24:330:24:36

worked closely with the proprietor of The Daily Telegraph.

0:24:360:24:40

There was...

0:24:400:24:42

I don't use the word - there was an agreement,

0:24:420:24:45

not a conspiracy, to keep it quiet.

0:24:450:24:49

And it worked.

0:24:490:24:51

Churchill's Private Office that was headed by Sir Jock Colville,

0:24:510:24:55

who'd been with him during the war,

0:24:550:24:56

reached a deal to keep news of Churchill's condition out of the press.

0:24:560:25:00

And Colville along with Christopher Soames, Churchill's son-in-law,

0:25:000:25:04

ran the country.

0:25:040:25:05

While the real Prime Minister was kept incommunicado and out of public sight,

0:25:050:25:09

Colville and Soames were Churchill impersonators.

0:25:090:25:13

Christopher Soames knew how to get the signature right.

0:25:130:25:18

He could sign, "Winston Churchill."

0:25:180:25:21

So after Churchill had his stroke, Soames was signing...

0:25:210:25:26

I think there was a bit of that, yes.

0:25:260:25:29

You know this?

0:25:310:25:33

I suppose I do, yes.

0:25:350:25:38

But I don't think, really,

0:25:380:25:41

that the covering up of his stroke was deceitful.

0:25:410:25:45

I don't think it was a black mark on government.

0:25:450:25:50

It was quite important

0:25:520:25:54

to maintain an appearance of normality.

0:25:540:25:59

Anyway, we managed to do it.

0:25:590:26:02

All the private offices in the ministries of Whitehall

0:26:020:26:05

are repositories of secrets held by civil servants

0:26:050:26:08

about their political masters.

0:26:080:26:11

They have to know every bit of the emotional life, pretty well,

0:26:110:26:15

of the minister they are serving.

0:26:150:26:17

If they have mistresses, they have to know about them

0:26:170:26:20

in case they have to get them all times of night and day.

0:26:200:26:23

And they have to have no secrets from each other

0:26:230:26:25

if it's going to work properly.

0:26:250:26:27

One of the ways that the Private Office civil servants discover everything they can,

0:26:290:26:34

happens every time a minister makes phone call.

0:26:340:26:37

The way it worked with the Tory minister Peter Walker in the '70s

0:26:400:26:44

is the way it's still done in Private Office today.

0:26:440:26:46

Everything a minister says

0:26:460:26:48

is monitored by a private secretary listening in on extension outside.

0:26:480:26:52

I remember when I first stepped into my Private Office

0:26:520:26:56

I was horrified to note that when I picked up the phone,

0:26:560:27:00

another phone was being picked up at the instantaneous moment.

0:27:000:27:04

After about ten minutes of this,

0:27:040:27:07

I remember barging into the secretary's office, next door to mine

0:27:070:27:12

and saying, "What the hell do you think you're doing?

0:27:120:27:15

"Why are you listening to my conversations?

0:27:150:27:17

"No, you're not entitled to do that, I don't want any more of it."

0:27:170:27:20

They then patiently explain to me

0:27:200:27:22

that every conversation conducted by a minister

0:27:220:27:26

is listened to by his or her civil servant.

0:27:260:27:29

Did that come as a surprise to you?

0:27:290:27:32

That someone listens in? It did.

0:27:320:27:34

And I didn't realise at first,

0:27:340:27:37

so you're having a conversation and Simon would come in

0:27:370:27:41

and I would start explaining, "I've had a phone call from Number Ten."

0:27:410:27:45

And he'd say, "Yes, I know, I was listening."

0:27:450:27:48

"Oh." It struck me as rather rude.

0:27:480:27:52

Of course, it's really important.

0:27:520:27:54

Most ministers except that for everything

0:27:540:27:58

apart from entirely private conversations,

0:27:580:28:00

an official will listen in to a conversation.

0:28:000:28:04

That's quite important and useful

0:28:040:28:07

because if you're not listening in,

0:28:070:28:09

no doubt somebody will be listening in at the other end

0:28:090:28:12

and you'll have a phone call where the other Private Office says, "You're minister said X."

0:28:120:28:16

If you haven't been listening, how do you know he said X rather than Y?

0:28:160:28:19

If I am having a phone call with a senior colleague,

0:28:190:28:22

another member of the Cabinet,

0:28:220:28:24

Lord knows how many people are listening,

0:28:240:28:27

probably four or five by the time you finish.

0:28:270:28:30

The person responsible for that area of policy,

0:28:300:28:33

someone from my private office, my colleagues.

0:28:330:28:36

And it's a way of not having to get into the car

0:28:360:28:41

and have a recorded meeting.

0:28:410:28:43

That's very important,

0:28:430:28:45

not least because it stops you arguing a week later

0:28:450:28:47

about what you did agree on

0:28:470:28:49

and also means that somebody automatically actions it.

0:28:490:28:53

There's always at least one person, sometimes a whole team,

0:28:530:28:57

it's a bloody spectator sport, making a phone call.

0:28:570:29:00

When it's really difficult, you know,

0:29:000:29:03

if it's an issue about

0:29:030:29:04

the spending review and you are negotiating with the Treasury

0:29:040:29:08

or a phone call with the Prime Minister.

0:29:080:29:11

You have lots of people,

0:29:110:29:13

everyone listening in at both ends of the phone call.

0:29:130:29:16

The Number Ten Private Office

0:29:170:29:20

is the nerve centre of Whitehall,

0:29:200:29:22

monitoring all calls and seeking to draw the positives

0:29:220:29:25

from face to face meetings that the PM holds.

0:29:250:29:29

When I was Health Secretary,

0:29:290:29:30

I had the most frightful rows with Margaret Thatcher.

0:29:300:29:33

I used to have one-to-ones with her in Downing Street.

0:29:330:29:37

They were the most unbelievable, lively rows,

0:29:370:29:40

both of us quite liked having lively political debate

0:29:400:29:42

but she could be pretty forceful.

0:29:420:29:44

And the private secretary from her office used to keep a minute

0:29:440:29:49

and decide what it was we'd agreed on

0:29:490:29:50

when you couldn't have got the two of us to agree on what we had agreed on.

0:29:500:29:54

My Private Office used to ring him up before I got back, he told me later,

0:29:540:30:00

and he would mark it on the Richter scale for liveliness

0:30:000:30:03

so they'd know what I would be like when I came in

0:30:030:30:06

and how lively this one had been.

0:30:060:30:08

A prime task for the civil servants in the Private Office network

0:30:080:30:12

across Whitehall is to deal with the vast flow of paperwork that comes in

0:30:120:30:17

requiring answers every day.

0:30:170:30:19

The Private Office has to go through it

0:30:190:30:21

and decide what they can deal with themselves

0:30:210:30:24

and what they should send up to the minister,

0:30:240:30:26

along with their advice and recommendations for action.

0:30:260:30:31

The Private Office have a very, very important sifting role.

0:30:310:30:36

Half the stuff the department wants me to see

0:30:360:30:39

is impossible for one man to see.

0:30:390:30:40

They have to decide on priority, have to decide on urgency,

0:30:400:30:44

and what the Secretary of State will either want to see or needs to see,

0:30:440:30:49

what he needn't see and what can just be farmed off.

0:30:490:30:51

A huge amount of information now comes into the Private Office -

0:30:540:31:00

far more than ever before.

0:31:000:31:02

And that puts a great burden and responsibility

0:31:020:31:05

on the people who do the sifting

0:31:050:31:07

because the Foreign Secretary still only has 24 hours in the day,

0:31:070:31:10

he still needs to sleep.

0:31:100:31:12

And therefore the people outside his office, the sifters,

0:31:120:31:16

who decide what he's going to see

0:31:160:31:19

are much more important than they used to be

0:31:190:31:22

because the volume of stuff arriving in that office is so huge.

0:31:220:31:26

You have to concentrate, like so many things,

0:31:260:31:29

on what is urgent and important

0:31:290:31:30

and what doesn't matter so much. It's probably got harder

0:31:300:31:34

with the number of e-mails coming in,

0:31:340:31:36

because often people now will copy in all ministers as an insurance policy

0:31:360:31:40

to say you have seen it.

0:31:400:31:42

The job of filtering of the Private Secretary

0:31:420:31:44

and the Private Office becomes even more important.

0:31:440:31:47

You never know what they have sifted

0:31:470:31:49

because you only see what comes to you.

0:31:490:31:51

But I never remember being let down by my Private Office,

0:31:510:31:55

my assumption is they did a first class job.

0:31:550:31:59

They know what you need to see

0:31:590:32:02

and things being copied that aren't relevant to you or don't affect you,

0:32:020:32:06

they save you the burden of sifting yourself.

0:32:060:32:08

If you could complete the first four by Saturday,

0:32:080:32:11

your driver could collect them and deliver the other two.

0:32:110:32:14

The famous red box is the focal point of the Private Office.

0:32:170:32:21

Every day Private Secretaries will pack at least one red box

0:32:210:32:24

full of important papers for the minister to deal with overnight.

0:32:240:32:29

The different Private Offices, like this one in the foreign office,

0:32:300:32:34

develop their own techniques to encourage ministers

0:32:340:32:38

to finish their boxes. They pack the papers in a special order,

0:32:380:32:41

with the simplest at the bottom.

0:32:410:32:44

We put in the signature folders first, mostly letters to other MPs

0:32:440:32:47

and to constituents which he has got to sign.

0:32:470:32:50

They are supposed to be the easiest.

0:32:500:32:53

And then things that are for information -

0:32:530:32:56

it might be some intelligence,

0:32:560:32:58

it might be letters from influential people

0:32:580:33:01

and then submissions, usually recommending action, or notes from us

0:33:010:33:05

saying, "We have a problem on this. What do you want to do about it?"

0:33:050:33:08

You open it up. On the very top will be the diary. Bright orange.

0:33:080:33:12

Underneath would be briefs for every meeting he has the next day.

0:33:120:33:15

One person from one of your Private Offices

0:33:190:33:22

told us that to encourage you to do your papers

0:33:220:33:25

they would put in a chocolate bar some way into the box

0:33:250:33:28

so you would work through it.

0:33:280:33:29

That's not true!

0:33:290:33:32

I'm not greatly into chocolate bars.

0:33:320:33:35

No, no, he or she has got the wrong minister.

0:33:350:33:39

They wouldn't get me with a chocolate bar.

0:33:390:33:42

Almost all women are accessory-conscientious,

0:33:420:33:44

characteristic of the gender.

0:33:440:33:46

Mrs Thatcher was too,

0:33:460:33:48

and so she and I would take home four red boxes a night

0:33:480:33:51

and rely on the fact we were...

0:33:510:33:54

able to sleep for less time than most men require

0:33:540:33:58

to get through these blasted boxes, hour after hour of them.

0:33:580:34:03

I had an arrangement with my Private Secretary -

0:34:030:34:05

he would signal in the box when I had reached the stage

0:34:050:34:09

that I didn't need to go any further.

0:34:090:34:12

There was a submission on a European Standard bus stop

0:34:120:34:15

which had come out of some crackpot conference

0:34:150:34:18

and what it meant was, everything above that,

0:34:180:34:21

as I worked through my box, that had to be done,

0:34:210:34:24

"Best done tonight if you can."

0:34:240:34:25

When I reached the European bus stop, firstly that was a little signal,

0:34:250:34:30

"Below this if you have got time. Below this is not a priority."

0:34:300:34:33

Some ministers do like...

0:34:330:34:35

taking the box home and working on it by themselves overnight.

0:34:350:34:39

Other ministers will take a box home

0:34:390:34:41

and it will come back in the morning.

0:34:410:34:43

I remember Ken Clarke would do that and sometimes say,

0:34:430:34:46

"I went to Ronnie Scott's last night."

0:34:460:34:48

The box remains undone in the morning.

0:34:480:34:50

What did you think of that?

0:34:500:34:52

It's a good idea to go out until 3am to listen to jazz at Ronnie Scott's,

0:34:520:34:56

and, on the whole,

0:34:560:34:57

Ken Clarke would catch up with the box during the day.

0:34:570:35:00

JAZZ MUSIC PLAYS

0:35:000:35:02

How long are you staying tonight?

0:35:060:35:09

Half eight Ministry of Defence tomorrow.

0:35:090:35:11

You're there later on, I think. One o'clock?

0:35:110:35:14

I was younger then. I haven't been to Ronnie's

0:35:140:35:16

for years, I'm far too old now.

0:35:160:35:18

But I used to go and when I first started I would go to Ronnie's

0:35:180:35:21

and get back home three in the morning

0:35:210:35:23

and then do the boxes still going the next day, usually.

0:35:230:35:29

I can't remember this occasion.

0:35:290:35:31

There's no point, if you're dropping asleep over a box

0:35:310:35:35

there is no point in do because you will make a frightful mess

0:35:350:35:39

of whatever you're reading and you will not remember it

0:35:390:35:41

or agree things you shouldn't.

0:35:410:35:44

Inside Number 10 the top box of all is packed

0:35:450:35:49

on the round table in the principal private secretary's office.

0:35:490:35:52

It's then taken to the Prime Minister.

0:35:520:35:54

One of Margaret Thatcher's private secretaries describes

0:35:570:35:59

how the Private Office seeks to help the Prime Minister reach decisions

0:35:590:36:04

on the contents of the red box.

0:36:040:36:06

What we try to do would on the top of any pile of

0:36:060:36:09

papers however complicated to strip it to its essentials.

0:36:090:36:14

Sometimes you could do it in one word.

0:36:140:36:15

"Prime Minister the Foreign Secretary says we should

0:36:150:36:17

"go to war with Iran, agree, question mark."

0:36:170:36:21

And she can write yes or no.

0:36:210:36:23

Sometimes you have to build that up into a fuller response.

0:36:230:36:27

If he has put in a lot of thought and it comes out

0:36:270:36:30

with no written with an exclamation mark you can't write back

0:36:300:36:34

saying the Prime Minister has read the Chancellor's paper and says no.

0:36:340:36:37

You have to draw on your knowledge of the Prime Minister's mind and perhaps

0:36:370:36:42

enlarge that into a paragraph of

0:36:420:36:44

carefully considered views, which are contrary to those of the Chancellor

0:36:440:36:47

of Exchequer leading to a balanced conclusion.

0:36:470:36:50

But that is part of the art and craft of the trade of private secretary.

0:36:500:36:53

Andrew Turnbull was Principal Private Secretary in the Number Ten

0:36:530:36:58

private office for many years and saw how different Prime Ministers

0:36:580:37:02

dealt with their red boxes.

0:37:020:37:05

Mrs Thatcher was legendary in doing the box. Many a time,

0:37:050:37:10

half past nine, ten o'clock

0:37:100:37:13

you go up to the flat in the evening,

0:37:130:37:15

ring the bell, drop the box in, run off and get home.

0:37:150:37:20

And come back, 8.30am the next morning and it's nearly all been read

0:37:200:37:26

and what's more nearly all been dispatched in

0:37:260:37:29

the sense of you have an answer.

0:37:290:37:31

John Major was also very diligent.

0:37:310:37:34

I would say he was as diligent and put in the work,

0:37:340:37:38

didn't have quite a high score on the decide factor.

0:37:380:37:42

You had a few more please refers but he was a believer in the daily box.

0:37:420:37:48

Tony Blair was much more, "I will only deal with the things that

0:37:480:37:52

"are important and deal with it at the weekend."

0:37:520:37:55

I wasn't

0:37:550:37:57

fortunately in Number 10 when

0:37:570:38:01

Gordon was

0:38:010:38:03

Prime Minister but he was also a slow decider.

0:38:030:38:09

One Number Ten official says that Gordon Brown would never finish

0:38:100:38:14

his paperwork.

0:38:140:38:16

And as well as the red boxes the Prime Minister alone

0:38:160:38:19

gets another rather special box.

0:38:190:38:22

We had a separate box, which was of a different colour from the main box

0:38:220:38:27

for particularly sensitive papers, which only the Prime Minister

0:38:270:38:33

-and principal private secretary had access to.

-What colour was that box?

0:38:330:38:36

It was blue with a red stripe and it was known as old stripey.

0:38:360:38:40

And this had a secret intelligence files and the spy stuff?

0:38:420:38:45

And highly confidential stuff, not just intelligence but other

0:38:450:38:49

highly confidential and personal stuff,

0:38:490:38:53

which the principal private secretary was dealing with

0:38:530:38:55

directly with the Prime Minister.

0:38:550:38:57

And was old stripey the one

0:38:570:39:00

the Prime Minister would turn to first as far as you know?

0:39:000:39:04

Quite often it was because it tended to have

0:39:040:39:07

the sort of juicy stuff in it.

0:39:070:39:09

In the Number Ten private office there would be regular battles

0:39:120:39:15

over the red boxes between the civil servants and the political advisers.

0:39:150:39:21

There used to be the most unseemly competition

0:39:210:39:23

on Friday evening to get the last word onto the various papers

0:39:230:39:26

going into the Prime Minister's weekend box, under John Major or

0:39:260:39:29

under Mrs Thatcher. The Political Secretary, who would be a political

0:39:290:39:33

appointee, and the head of the Policy Unit, who was a political appointee,

0:39:330:39:36

would stay late and try and write a memo to put right on top of the

0:39:360:39:39

pile of papers saying, really, you should do this. Because they knew

0:39:390:39:41

that's what would get read first at least before all the rest was read.

0:39:410:39:45

But the Cabinet Secretary and Principal Private Secretary,

0:39:450:39:47

the two civil servants, were much cannier and would always outwait them

0:39:470:39:50

on a Friday evening to stick the very last word on top of their last words.

0:39:500:39:54

So there was no-one to arbitrate

0:39:540:39:55

those kind of disputes, and that's what we thought we needed.

0:39:550:39:58

Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell were New Labour's top two

0:39:580:40:02

special advisers, with the power to give orders to civil servants.

0:40:020:40:06

The Super Spads spawned a new satire.

0:40:060:40:09

-Malcolm, do you know...?

-Obviously, he knows.

0:40:090:40:11

No, he doesn't know...

0:40:110:40:13

There has been a massive, irretrievable data loss.

0:40:130:40:17

The last seven months' worth of new immigrant details have gone,

0:40:170:40:22

apparently, lost in the computer.

0:40:220:40:24

So, what is your great strategy for dealing with this?

0:40:320:40:36

Come on, I mean, I'm fuckin' all ears, I'm fuckin' Andrew Marr here!

0:40:360:40:39

Tony Blair was determined greatly

0:40:410:40:43

to strengthen the political side of the Number Ten Private Office.

0:40:430:40:47

He brought in a record number of 30 special advisers.

0:40:470:40:50

He wanted to ensure that ministers and their

0:40:500:40:53

Private Offices across Whitehall danced to Number Ten's tune.

0:40:530:40:59

Bloody Number Ten!

0:40:590:41:00

My special adviser on the

0:41:000:41:02

communications side, Chris Norton, got a phone call from Number Ten,

0:41:020:41:08

irate because they'd heard I was doing a 8.10 interview on

0:41:080:41:12

the Today programme, and there was all hell to pay.

0:41:120:41:15

What is he doing on there,

0:41:150:41:18

why's he doing it, what's the subject?

0:41:180:41:19

It was actually the BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was held hostage

0:41:190:41:25

for all that time, who was on the 8.10 interview on the BBC,

0:41:250:41:29

but someone at Number Ten had heard,

0:41:290:41:32

"At 8.10, we'll be talking to Alan Johnson." Whoosh... There were...

0:41:320:41:36

phone calls everywhere!

0:41:360:41:38

So you certainly weren't allowed to kind of, without Number Ten

0:41:380:41:42

knowing about it, be doing major radio or TV interviews.

0:41:420:41:46

When Johnson became Home Secretary two years ago, almost his first act

0:41:460:41:51

was to see that his four Spads would

0:41:510:41:53

have proper accommodation next to his own room and Private Office.

0:41:530:41:58

Let me go and have a look where they are.

0:41:580:41:59

-OK.

-I need to know my Spads are comfortable.

0:41:590:42:02

They are, actually.

0:42:020:42:04

Oh...

0:42:060:42:09

Johnson discovered that his Spads would have the room next door.

0:42:090:42:12

I know, we've got a sofa...

0:42:120:42:14

-Look at that!

-Excitement!

0:42:140:42:16

That's not too bad actually, is it?

0:42:180:42:20

We promise not to use your loo when you're not there.

0:42:200:42:22

Yeah, that's great.

0:42:250:42:26

Can you remember, you were concerned about the office for your

0:42:260:42:30

special advisers and kept saying, "Where are my Spads going to sit?"

0:42:300:42:33

-Do you remember any of that?

-Er, yeah, I do, because,

0:42:330:42:36

you know, I'd been to places where the Spads were kind of

0:42:360:42:40

down the end of a very long corridor and a long way from you, and I'd been

0:42:400:42:43

in places where they were very close to me but in a little hovel.

0:42:430:42:48

I mean, I wanted to make sure they were properly looked after.

0:42:480:42:51

So, yes, that was a question -

0:42:510:42:54

a very important question - about how the mechanics...

0:42:540:42:56

They were actually through another door

0:42:560:42:59

in a very nice room, probably the best accommodation they've ever had.

0:42:590:43:03

Far too posh for them, in my view, but

0:43:030:43:05

they were through the door.

0:43:050:43:07

So we had kind of connecting doors,

0:43:070:43:09

we were in touch with each other, and that was important.

0:43:090:43:11

What is the role of the Spad?

0:43:110:43:14

Well, I guess it depends on the relationship with the minister,

0:43:140:43:17

but for me, it was always you're the eyes and ears of your minister...

0:43:170:43:21

along with the Private Office, you are that

0:43:210:43:24

barrier between the minister and an outside world that wants to, in many

0:43:240:43:29

respects, try and make your life much more difficult than it is,

0:43:290:43:33

or frustrate you in your objectives.

0:43:330:43:35

So you are an adviser on policy, you are an adviser on communications,

0:43:350:43:40

and you are an adviser - and this is where it changes from

0:43:400:43:43

the civil service - you are an adviser on political strategy,

0:43:430:43:48

and you can be party political and you're allowed to be.

0:43:480:43:51

And it's very important that you can do that, so that

0:43:510:43:55

you send the right signals and messages out to the public

0:43:550:43:57

in terms of what you're trying to achieve as a political party.

0:43:570:44:00

Part of it is ensuring that you don't

0:44:000:44:02

just become a little enclave where the only people you

0:44:020:44:04

talk to are your special advisers. You have to bring other people in.

0:44:040:44:07

The sensible Secretary of State will have their

0:44:070:44:09

Principal Private Secretary in with the special advisers.

0:44:090:44:13

They can't get involved in the political discussions

0:44:130:44:15

but they're there listening. The Principal Private Secretary

0:44:150:44:18

then works much better with the special advisers and as a result,

0:44:180:44:20

so does the whole department.

0:44:200:44:23

If special advisers

0:44:230:44:25

act purely with the minister and lock out

0:44:250:44:29

Private Office, lock out the rest of

0:44:290:44:31

the civil service, if the Secretary of State colludes in that, you will

0:44:310:44:34

have a disastrous department and a very unsuccessful Secretary of State.

0:44:340:44:39

The new Labour Transport Secretary, Stephen Byers, brought in his own

0:44:390:44:43

personally appointed special adviser called Jo Moore.

0:44:430:44:48

She alienated the Private Office by what they saw as her bullying style.

0:44:480:44:52

The department had become hugely controversial.

0:44:520:44:55

In a notorious e-mail on the day of the 9/11 attacks in Manhattan,

0:44:550:45:00

Jo Moore wrote it would be a very good day to get out any bad news

0:45:000:45:04

the Ministry wanted to bury.

0:45:040:45:05

The e-mail was sent to Alun Evans,

0:45:050:45:08

who'd been Principal Private Secretary

0:45:080:45:10

and was now the Transport Ministry's Director of Communications.

0:45:100:45:14

I was surprised.

0:45:150:45:18

It was a very unusual e-mail to have sent, I seem to recall.

0:45:180:45:22

But what did you think at that stage when you got an e-mail like that,

0:45:220:45:25

-"This would be a good day to bury bad news?"

-I was shocked by it.

0:45:250:45:29

Mr Byers, can you look up, please?

0:45:290:45:31

The political pressure on Stephen Byers had increased dramatically

0:45:310:45:35

after Jo Moore's e-mail was leaked from the Ministry to the media.

0:45:350:45:38

Is that all right with you, sir?

0:45:380:45:40

-No, get them out.

-Yes.

0:45:400:45:42

Would you mind, please? Just move out of here, please.

0:45:420:45:45

But Byers refused to sack Jo Moore, and she was kept hidden away until

0:45:450:45:50

it was decided she should make a ritual public apology.

0:45:500:45:54

I'd like to sincerely apologise for the huge offence that I caused

0:45:550:45:59

by sending the e-mail.

0:45:590:46:01

I can well understand the disgust people will feel with what I wrote.

0:46:010:46:05

I very much wish I hadn't written it.

0:46:050:46:07

In fact, I find it difficult to believe that I did write it.

0:46:070:46:10

Byers now faced calls to resign, as he stuck by Jo Moore.

0:46:120:46:16

And there was open conflict within the Ministry.

0:46:160:46:20

I think that the furore around that was actually a reflection of the

0:46:200:46:25

fact that the relationship between the Special Advisers' Office

0:46:250:46:28

and the civil service at the time was a poor one.

0:46:280:46:31

And from what I know from the background to that,

0:46:310:46:35

there was perhaps some high-handed activity on the part of

0:46:350:46:39

the special advisers there towards civil servants,

0:46:390:46:41

and civil servants then used the opportunity to get their revenge

0:46:410:46:45

in the best way possible, you know, as a dish served cold.

0:46:450:46:50

Ministry officials leaked stories about Jo Moore's behaviour.

0:46:500:46:55

The leaks were so damaging

0:46:550:46:57

that the top mandarin at Transport, Sir Richard Mottram, used the

0:46:570:47:00

strongest language to describe how bad the whole affair had been.

0:47:000:47:04

-I've nothing to say.

-Could you understand why

0:47:040:47:07

Richard Mottram said, "We're fucked, you're fucked, we're all fucked"?

0:47:070:47:10

Well, Richard, in Mottram-esque language, was capturing the

0:47:100:47:15

predicament the department was in at that time.

0:47:150:47:18

But I suppose in a way, that was

0:47:180:47:20

seen as the epitome of how a special adviser thinks...

0:47:200:47:26

It was, but I would say that was a great exception to the way many

0:47:260:47:30

special advisers work in the fact that there are one or two examples

0:47:300:47:34

where the relationship went wrong or, in that case, spectacularly wrong.

0:47:340:47:37

I don't think that takes away from the importance

0:47:370:47:40

of the special adviser role.

0:47:400:47:42

Jo Moore was on her bike, forced to resign, as was her minister.

0:47:420:47:48

Number Ten said there'd been "civil war" in the Ministry.

0:47:480:47:52

Although the number of special advisers had grown sharply

0:47:520:47:55

under New Labour, they weren't a New Labour invention.

0:47:550:47:58

There had been earlier spectacular examples

0:47:580:48:00

of how Spads could rupture relations not just within

0:48:000:48:05

a Ministry, but between departments, right up to the top of government.

0:48:050:48:10

One celebrated case involved the Treasury and Number Ten.

0:48:100:48:14

Professor Alan Walters,

0:48:140:48:16

a right-wing market economist, who'd been brought into Number Ten

0:48:160:48:19

by Margaret Thatcher, was to be her Special adviser on Economics.

0:48:190:48:24

But the Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who'd begun as

0:48:240:48:27

a Mrs Thatcher favourite, came to resent Walters going

0:48:270:48:29

public with views on the economy, which differed sharply from his own.

0:48:290:48:34

The markets didn't know whether to believe what

0:48:340:48:37

the Chancellor was saying because, was that really the Government's

0:48:370:48:40

policy, or was the Government's policy a different policy,

0:48:400:48:42

which they were getting from the Prime Minister's personal adviser?

0:48:420:48:45

And that made it impossible, I felt, for me to do my job properly.

0:48:450:48:49

He objected to my having the Prime Minister's ear, and on pouring what

0:48:490:48:55

he regarded as poison down it, what I regarded as the truth.

0:48:550:48:59

Lawson delivered an ultimatum

0:48:590:49:01

to Mrs Thatcher, saying she had to choose between himself and Walters.

0:49:010:49:07

Nigel knocked me down with a feather.

0:49:070:49:10

For a Chancellor of the Exchequer with all of the importance and

0:49:100:49:15

reputation of that position to come to me and say, "Unless you sack one

0:49:150:49:22

"of your most loyal advisers, I will resign," I couldn't believe it!

0:49:220:49:27

I hated resigning.

0:49:290:49:32

It was certainly the last thing I wanted to do.

0:49:320:49:34

# There's a man that lives next door in my neighbourhood

0:49:360:49:42

# In my neighbourhood

0:49:420:49:45

# He gets me down...

0:49:450:49:47

The fraught relations between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown

0:49:470:49:50

were made worse over a decade by anonymous attacks by each side's

0:49:500:49:55

special advisers on the other.

0:49:550:49:57

One briefing dramatically raised the stakes.

0:49:590:50:01

A top-level Number Ten source with a good claim to know the mind of

0:50:010:50:05

the Prime Minister, described Gordon Brown as psychologically flawed.

0:50:050:50:10

The Brownites, including Ed Balls and the spin doctor Charlie Whelan,

0:50:100:50:14

reacted angrily.

0:50:140:50:17

Gordon Brown was very upset,

0:50:170:50:18

and rightly so, because that's not the sort of thing that you expect

0:50:180:50:25

from Number Ten.

0:50:250:50:27

So he was very upset.

0:50:270:50:29

Where do you think the psychologically flawed came from?

0:50:290:50:32

According to the people who've

0:50:320:50:34

written about these things, it came from Alastair Campbell.

0:50:340:50:35

That's certainly where we thought it came from.

0:50:350:50:38

Well, that's not true.

0:50:380:50:39

-It's not true?

-No, it's not true.

-You didn't say that?

-No.

-Really?

0:50:390:50:43

No. Yeah, absolutely not true.

0:50:430:50:44

-You did not say that?

-No.

0:50:440:50:47

-Um, you surprise me.

-Well, there you are.

0:50:470:50:50

You get surprised by a lot of things, Michael.

0:50:500:50:52

While New Labour's top two attempted a public show of unity, the Spads,

0:50:540:50:59

in their Private Offices, escalated the war of smear and counter smear.

0:50:590:51:04

When Matthew Taylor - a new Political Strategy Adviser -

0:51:060:51:08

arrived at Number Ten, he sought to negotiate

0:51:080:51:11

a peace treaty between the warring Private Offices of the tribes.

0:51:110:51:16

One of my many examples of naivety going into Number Ten was thinking

0:51:160:51:21

that I could overcome the Gordon Brown-Tony Blair conflict, that I

0:51:210:51:24

was somebody who liked Tony personally, absolutely understood

0:51:240:51:28

what a brilliant politician he was, but actually had a bit more sympathy

0:51:280:51:30

for Gordon and his kind of Social-Democratic credentials.

0:51:300:51:33

I was the person to bring peace to this! And I remember every week,

0:51:330:51:36

I used to go for a walk in the park

0:51:360:51:37

for the first few months with Ed Miliband, who was working for Gordon.

0:51:370:51:41

We'd walk round the park and I would try and be as open and discursive

0:51:410:51:44

with Ed as I possibly could about what Number Ten was doing.

0:51:440:51:46

I would say, you know, I'm not sure Tony's right about this, I'm trying

0:51:460:51:48

to persuade him on this one and that one and the other.

0:51:480:51:51

And we'd get to the end of the walk, coming out of St James's Park,

0:51:510:51:54

and there'd be a pause and I'd wait for Ed to share with me

0:51:540:51:57

what was happening in the Treasury and where Gordon's persuasions were

0:51:570:52:00

and where his preferences lay, and there'd be nothing.

0:52:000:52:04

Ed would just say, "Thanks for that," and he would disappear back into

0:52:040:52:07

the Treasury. So I did that for a few weeks

0:52:070:52:09

and then came to realise it was pretty futile.

0:52:090:52:12

The war reached new levels of resentment and vehemence,

0:52:140:52:17

as relations between Ten and Eleven went into meltdown.

0:52:170:52:22

Can you understand why it is that special advisers are seen as part of

0:52:220:52:25

the blackouts and the dirty-tricks department,

0:52:250:52:28

and smearing people, including their own colleagues?

0:52:280:52:32

Well, I think... I mean, that did go

0:52:320:52:36

on and I know it went on under Labour when we were in government.

0:52:360:52:42

Not systematically, there were

0:52:420:52:45

-individuals who were motivated to do that.

-Why have you stood down?

0:52:450:52:48

The macho style of some prominent New Labour spin doctors like

0:52:480:52:52

Charlie Whelan and Alastair Campbell was taken to a new level

0:52:520:52:56

by Damian McBride.

0:52:560:52:58

His proposed sex-smear e-mails against top Tories

0:52:580:53:02

made The Thick Of It seem more documentary than satire.

0:53:020:53:05

Do not make this a disciplinary issue, do you hear me, soldier?!

0:53:050:53:10

I found her! I found...

0:53:100:53:12

She was on the fuckin' news! Get this guy out of here!

0:53:120:53:15

-This is not a fuckin' discussion!

-Right, nobody argue, OK?

0:53:150:53:18

I am going to go in there and I am going to take...

0:53:180:53:21

-No, you're fuckin' not!

-Fuck off!

-Oh, fuck...

0:53:210:53:23

-Jesus Christ!

-You've hurt yourself.

0:53:230:53:26

Oh, I've got so much on as it is!

0:53:260:53:29

-You hit me!

-I did not hit you.

0:53:290:53:31

I'm going to hit the fuckin' wall and pull my fist back and hit you in

0:53:310:53:34

the fuckin' face instead.

0:53:340:53:36

-I think you've broken my nose!

-No, that's my just a scratch, mate.

0:53:360:53:40

How accurate a portrayal do you think The Thick Of It is?

0:53:400:53:43

Well, I think there are a few I can remember who actually

0:53:430:53:47

would model themselves on the Malcolm Tucker character,

0:53:470:53:52

who actually see that as the way you do things. But that wouldn't be me.

0:53:520:53:58

My goal was to have good relationships with Private Office,

0:53:580:54:02

because they're that line of defence for your minister

0:54:020:54:05

against the wider civil service and the media and the world.

0:54:050:54:08

The first ever televised Leaders' Debates dominated

0:54:100:54:13

last year's General Election.

0:54:130:54:15

Facing Gordon Brown were two former Spads, David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

0:54:150:54:22

Journalists watched the debate in the media centre

0:54:220:54:24

that became known as "Spin Alley".

0:54:240:54:28

Three men, each of whom wants to be our next Prime Minister.

0:54:280:54:32

Every promise you hear from each of us this evening depends

0:54:320:54:36

on one thing, a strong economy...

0:54:360:54:40

The New Labour spadocracy followed the debate in a private room.

0:54:400:54:43

Get the positions right now

0:54:430:54:45

and we can have secure jobs, we can have standards of living rising...

0:54:450:54:49

As the debate ended, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson,

0:54:490:54:52

Labour's campaign manager, sought to spin

0:54:520:54:54

the journalists against Cameron.

0:54:540:54:56

It's precisely that sort of arrogance, that sense of entitlement

0:54:560:55:01

that Mr Cameron exudes.

0:55:010:55:04

George Osborne, Cameron's fellow ex-Spad, was also spinning.

0:55:040:55:08

Osborne was briefing Ben Brogan,

0:55:150:55:16

Political Editor of the Conservative Daily Telegraph.

0:55:160:55:19

Ben, Ben, Ben?

0:55:190:55:22

Tell George what to say...

0:55:220:55:23

INDISTINCT

0:55:230:55:26

Go on... No, George, don't be put off your stride.

0:55:260:55:28

Come on.

0:55:280:55:30

But back in his Whitehall Ministry, on the eve of the General Election,

0:55:350:55:39

Peter Mandelson, the prototype political adviser

0:55:390:55:43

who'd become Gordon Brown's highest-ranking minister,

0:55:430:55:45

prepared to thank the civil servants who ran his Private Office.

0:55:450:55:49

I've got some very, very good news...

0:55:490:55:51

Win or lose, I could just stay!

0:55:510:55:56

Obviously, if we win, it would be business as usual and I could just

0:55:560:56:00

take decisions, sign warrants, dispense money like a Bourbon king!

0:56:000:56:05

If we don't win,

0:56:050:56:07

I still stay, but help whoever comes in.

0:56:070:56:11

I'm not able to go round the whole department

0:56:110:56:14

thanking everyone individually,

0:56:140:56:17

but I can thank you because you've been so wonderful for me.

0:56:170:56:21

You've just supported me and just given me the time of my life.

0:56:210:56:25

The election saw the triumph of the Spads, who now held the two

0:56:290:56:33

highest offices in the land.

0:56:330:56:35

And another Spad graduate from

0:56:390:56:41

Private Office was the new Chancellor.

0:56:410:56:43

And four out of five of the candidates for the job of

0:56:470:56:50

Leader of the Opposition to Osborne, Clegg and Cameron were also Spads.

0:56:500:56:55

Ed Miliband received 19.934%.

0:56:550:57:01

Ed Miliband had beaten his older brother.

0:57:010:57:03

Ed had worked in

0:57:030:57:04

Gordon Brown's Private Office, while David had worked for Blair.

0:57:040:57:07

Like Cameron, the brothers had read

0:57:070:57:09

PPE at Oxford, as had fellow Spad Ed Balls, who became Shadow Chancellor.

0:57:090:57:15

Ed Miliband.

0:57:160:57:17

MPS: Hear, hear!

0:57:170:57:19

Speaker, I do say to him, there is increasing concern

0:57:190:57:23

about the Government's competence.

0:57:230:57:25

Mr Speaker, does the Prime Minister think it's just a problem with the

0:57:250:57:28

Foreign Secretary, or is it a wider problem in his government?

0:57:280:57:32

First of all, he raises the issue of the Foreign Secretary.

0:57:320:57:35

Let me tell you, I think we have an excellent Foreign Secretary.

0:57:350:57:37

CHEERING

0:57:370:57:39

And when it comes to it, there's only one person I can remember round

0:57:390:57:44

here knifing a Foreign Secretary, and I think I'm looking at him!

0:57:440:57:49

CHEERING

0:57:490:57:52

Over the past 50 years, the arrival of the special

0:57:530:57:57

advisers has dramatically altered the balance of power in Whitehall.

0:57:570:58:01

The new professional political class

0:58:010:58:03

that cut its teeth in the Private Offices

0:58:030:58:06

and was famously characterised as "the people who live in the dark"

0:58:060:58:09

has grown to take over the reins of power.

0:58:090:58:12

In constitutional theory, the Head of Government was first

0:58:120:58:15

among equals, but these days, the Prime Minister of Britain

0:58:150:58:18

is first among Spads.

0:58:180:58:21

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:210:58:24

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:240:58:28

Michael Cockerell reveals what really happens in the hidden power houses of Whitehall, the cabinet minister's private office. These are where political advisers have bloody battles with civil servants for the hearts and minds of their ministers, from where gaffes are averted and plots hatched. Mixing rare archive with candid interviews, the programme tells the story of what goes on within this most influential of secret networks.


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