What is Sir Jeremy Heywood up to? Last week he jointly wrote an article praising Margaret Thatcher which led to a Labour MP accusing him of having ‘prostituted his high office’. This week he’s revealed to be discussing the behind-the-scenes wranglings in the Cabinet on economic policy.
The Times’ Sam Coates reports this morning that the Cabinet Secretary revealed to a private meeting of bankers that there were four different positions on growth in the Cabinet. Coates reports that Heywood said David Cameron was focused on exports, free trade and micro and small businesses, Nick Clegg is more interested in regional growth and city-led schemes, Vince Cable is annoyed with the banks and worried about the availability of credit, and George Osborne is concerned with infrastructure investment, long-term finance and overseas business.
None of these positions would come as much of a surprise to anyone who follows the speeches and announcements made by these four men, but The Times’ report suggests that Heywood implied ‘his job was being made harder by the differing priorities of senior government figures’. This is astonishing: no matter how different the positions of its members are, the Cabinet is tasked with maintaining collective responsibility once a policy is published, and nowhere is this more the case than on economic policy. There are surely questions about whether Heywood should be breaching that collective responsibility on ministers’ behalf, even in private meetings.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman tried to play down the significance of Heywood’s comments this morning. He said he was ‘rather puzzled by that story’ and that ‘the only surprise would be if we were’t doing all of those things’. He added:
‘All of these things come together as part of the government’s strategy: I think the Cabinet Office have explained that was emphatically the point that the Cabinet Secretary was making.
‘I think it would be rather odd if senior officials as part of their very important role in supporting ministers weren’t engaging with various sectors of industry.’
There’s already a feeling in Whitehall that Heywood has a tendency to freelance rather too enthusiastically: he also briefs journalists on stories. That he has been suggesting to an audience outside Whitehall that the wranglings of senior politicians make his life more difficult will only add to that impression.