The former cabinet secretary showed the civil service at its bestby Sue Cameron / November 6, 2018 / Leave a comment
Jeremy Heywood, cabinet secretary and Britain’s top civil servant, was never a street fighter. When he won battles in Whitehall—as he invariably did—it was because of the sheer brilliance of his performance. “He always outperformed opponents—he didn’t hit them below the belt,” said Anthony Seldon, who has written the history of all cabinet secretaries since the post was created over 100 years ago.
Heywood‘s untimely death from cancer at the age of 56 leaves a gap at the heart of government. Charming, with a prodigious appetite for hard work though he also loved parties, he made himself indispensable to prime ministers of all colours and temperaments. He was at the shoulder of Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron and, all too briefly, Theresa May. A policy man to his fingertips, he saw it as his job “to make things happen” and he had a talent for finding new ways of tackling so-called “wicked” issues. Even at the end, when he was having chemotherapy, he would be on his phone—against doctors’ orders—asking how things were going, whether there were any blockages, whether he could help.
Brexit dominated his final period as cabinet secretary. The Chequers compromise bears his stamp. His career included many moments of high drama: economic crises, the Iraq war, scandals like plebgate, and the years of the TB/GBs—the internal warfare between PM Tony Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown. Gus, now Lord, O’Donnell, Heywood’s first boss at the Treasury and his immediate predecessor as cabinet secretary, paid tribute to the way his protégé moved “seamlessly” from one prime minister to another.When the once close relationship between Blair and his chancellor deteriorated, notably over Brown’s five tests for Britain to join the euro, Heywood stepped in. He had become close to Ed Balls, Brown’s special adviser, and the two met constantly, often at a “greasy spoon” café in Whitehall, where they schemed to keep the peace between their bosses.
Heywood was an arch fixer. O’Donnell, who lived near him in South London, recalled: “when he was at No 10 and I was cabinet secretary, we would come in together with the wonderful Barry as our driver. Frequently we would be taking calls from ministers who wanted to complain to one of us that the other one was being awkward. By the end of the journey we had managed to sort out most of…