Saturday, 24 March 2012

Minimum price? Yes, Sir Jeremy.

Charles Moore writes:
the government wants to impose a new and oppressive tax on the poor — a minimum price for alcohol. It is always in the name of health that the working class are attacked. But what struck me most about the story was how the decision was taken. According to the Sunday Times, ‘The decision to go ahead was made at a meeting chaired by Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, and attended by [Andrew] Lansley, Theresa May, the home secretary, and Vince Cable, the business secretary … it was not put to Cabinet.’ This is yet another example of the unacknowledged change in our constitution by which civil servants are put in charge (see also Crown appointments, honours forfeiture, IPSA, the Information Commissioner etc) of their elected political masters. ‘During the meeting,’ the report went on, ‘Heywood is said to have overruled Lansley’s objections.’ By what right?
I hadn't heard of Heywood until last Thursday, when I read a Spectator article by Quentin Letts: Sir Jeremy Heywood is the man who really runs the country:
Sir J. Heywood is a backstairs Bertie, a smudger, a whisper-in-the-PM’s-ear sort who shrivels from public view. The worry for Conservatives, and the rest of us, is that this shrewd murmurer, this eminence grease, has acquired unprecedented power over not only the Prime Minister but also Nick Clegg, Cabinet, the coalition and much of the rest of the state apparat. There is talk of Heywood obstructing secretaries of state, shafting Cameroons and organising Downing Street to his own convenience. We have gone beyond ‘Yes, Minister’ and now have ‘Yes, Sir Jeremy’. Worryingly, no one seems more in hock to him than our soigné, someone-take-care-of-that PM.

When Heywood sat before the Public Accounts Committee it was striking that he had acquired many of Clegg’s vocal tics — repeated ‘y’knows’ and ‘sort ofs’ and stuttering checks of a metallic voice. Yet he was unable to disguise entirely the self-satisfaction when he detailed his new responsibilities. ‘Cabinet agenda, Cabinet sub-committees, Cabinet sub-committee membership, Cabinet sub-committee minute-taking — all that falls under me,’ he said. ‘I am in charge.’

Indeed he is. Much though we mock the Greeks and Italians for being run by unelected technocrats, can we truthfully say that we are any better?

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