Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 71)



  Q60  Grant Shapps: Can I keep you on the point here? You are demonstrating the extent of the problem amongst the current Cabinet and possibly past ones but you are ignoring the solution, which is more of a medium-term solution, which is the electorate will see this, they will get fed up with it and eventually they will go for a prospective government which says, "What we are going to do is come in and have much more of a Cabinet-style government.".

  Professor Hennessy: Whether they believe you or not is another thing.

  Q61  Grant Shapps: That is absolutely true. Governments eventually may do it. One is reminded of the way in which, perhaps ironically now, the Bush Presidency started with this idea of a cleaner White House than had been there for a while.

  Professor Hennessy: They all say that. The first people they have to delude are themselves. They cannot help it.

  Q62  Grant Shapps: You are critical of short-termism and the speed with which these memoirs come out. I would have thought you were attracted to a more medium-term solution, which seems to me to be already there in the checks and balances of politics and democracy and eventually the lot will get thrown out simply for the fact that they have started to look too presidential in style.

  Professor Hennessy: I wish that did turn elections but I do not think it does. Who knows what turns elections? It would be nice if clean, decent and restrained government was a factor.

  Grant Shapps: There is evidence that if you get sleazy enough then you get kicked out. You only have to look at 1997 to see that. I would suggest there is probably evidence, although we will have to wait another three or four years to find out, that if the Government continues to be this presidential base with so little collective Cabinet responsibility and so on and so forth—

  Q63  Chairman: The problem with that theory is that Clement Attlee got kicked out as well and he is your great hero and mine, Peter. There is nobody more procedurally correct than Clement Attlee.

  Professor Hennessy: He wrote the most boring set of memoirs.

  Chairman: The idea that there is some self-correcting mechanism at work here I do not think is true.

  Q64  Mr Prentice: Peter, you have previously referred to the Cabinet as being the most supine ever.

  Professor Hennessy: Yes. It has got a bit of life since I said that last but it is not much life.

  Q65  Mr Prentice: When Campbell cashes in his pension and publishes his memoirs do you think the floodgates are going to open and we are going to have a whole series of memoirs published by Cabinet Ministers who feel really wounded by what Campbell said?

  Professor Hennessy: The opening shots will be people rebutting what he says the next day after the first serialisation. My press chums will have a field day doing a ring round and the resentment levels will be immensely high and they will all be waiting for it. Alastair has got remarkable gifts, not least he has got a turbo charged pen and he is not the most charitable to those he regards as either misguided or feeble, which is a pretty large category of the political class. Everybody will be ready. It happened a bit with Dick Crossman but not very much. I think everybody is anticipating that there will be a gap before the memoirs and the diaries come out.

  Q66  Chairman: It would be a cruel irony, would it not, if we toughened up the rules and deprived Alastair of his pension?

  Professor Hennessy: I am crushed at the thought!

  Q67  Mr Prentice: We have been talking about people in the intelligence community, civil servants and politicians. What about senior police officers? We have got Sir John Stevens who said some very critical things about the Home Secretary and David Blunkett chose not to respond.

  Professor Hennessy: His defence was, "The Pollard book rubbished me and, therefore, I am putting the record straight.". You can always express resentment, whether justifiably or not, and be cross about it in putting the record straight. Once this tit-for-tatting, which I think is what we were talking about right at the beginning of this session, has got out of hand, it is very hard to get it back.

  Q68  Mr Prentice: Sir Ian Blair would be party to the most sensitive discussions and could come up with a book entitled "The 90 days—What Blair really said". Do you think books and memoirs from people like Sir Ian Blair should go through some clearance procedure? The late Ben Pimlott said tongue in cheek that everyone should keep a diary. Would you agree with that, Peter?

  Professor Hennessy: Yes. I know you are not encouraged to as a senior official but I think you can after a decent interval. The Macmillan government thought of prosecuting Sir Maurice Hankey, the first ever Cabinet Secretary, because he was going to use his diary for a book called "Supreme Command" about the Great War. This was in 1958 and that war had ended in 1918. Ever since then I think Cabinet Secretaries have been asked to say voluntarily that they would not keep diaries post-Hankey, is that right?

  Lord Wilson of Dinton: Nobody ever asked me. I am not publishing diaries, memoirs, anything. I have absolutely no plans to do it.

  Q69  Mr Prentice: You have kept a diary, have you?

  Lord Wilson of Dinton: I kept my engagement diaries and press cuttings. I did jot things down, it is what Radcliffe calls "the private discharge of psychological tensions", but I have not looked at it all. I do not know what it adds up to.

  Professor Hennessy: I will help you sift it!

  Lord Wilson of Dinton: I am certainly not publishing diaries or memoirs.

  Q70  Mr Prentice: Presumably those will go to the national archives when you pass on.

  Lord Wilson of Dinton: They will probably go into the waste bin.

  Q71  Julia Goldsworthy: You said you were dismayed by what you had seen happening more recently. What would you do if you were still in a position to overcome these problems?

  Lord Wilson of Dinton: I am not going to get into the business of telling my successor in public how to do the job. He is a tremendous appointment, he has my full support and I think he will turn out to be one of the classic Cabinet Secretaries.

  Professor Hennessy: Chairman, I think we are both agreed that we want you to sort it out. We have to say that because we think that.

  Chairman: The danger of inviting you as a witness, Peter, is that you always come and ask us to sort things out, which we are never quite able to do. We have had a splendid session. As Grant says, not only was it a wonderful performance, we have had lots of real substance in there too. You should certainly take to touring. There would be an audience for it everywhere. Richard, I thought your suggestion that instead of writing books these people should go and have some other kind of therapy is one that needs some serious consideration. Thank you very much indeed for coming along.

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