Channel 4 have the tale tonight that Sir Gus O’Donnell wanted to quit in May but the coalition persuaded him to stay to ease the transfer. It’s a telling insight into the high reputation of the cabinet secretary (known as “GOD” for his initials) within Whitehall.
Sir Gus could now stay on for another year or two, by when he will be 60. In Channel 4′s phrase, “he does not intend to see out the next Parliament”.
The debate is already underway across Twitter and the blogosphere after David Cameron described himself as “middle class”* during his PM Direct event this afternoon.
Many will be surprised by this comment given that Cameron is an old Etonian, former Oxford student, prime minister, descendant of MPs – and ultimately of William IV – and husband of an aristocrat. He admitted earlier this year that he had had a “very posh, very privileged upbringing.”
Is this the final proof of the classless society? (It was John Prescott – the former ship steward turned deputy prime minister – who famously said in 1997 that “we are all middle class now“.)
Sophy Ridge at the News of the World has a gem of a story about the internal advice given to press officers during the Labour years on how to handle difficult media calls.
The highlight has to be this passage:
The spinners are given a range of ammunition on how to keep “nightmare” stories away from the public. Under a section called “Tone of Voice”, the document asks: “Do you sound relaxed, harassed, stressed by the story, aggressive and panicked? It continues: “Sounding relaxed, in control of the facts, and as though you have heard it all before sometimes makes a journalist think that their story isn’t such a big deal. Sounding panicked as soon as they call with a nightmare story makes them tell their news desk that they have wound us up and that they should hold space on pages 1 or 2.”
I’ve obtained my own copy of the documents and they are full of lots of this sort of rhubarb. For example, “proximity mapping” – a device to establish if you are spending your time wisely with stakeholders.
Tory MP Dominic Raab has got himself into a bit of bother by asking the campaign group 38 degrees to remove his email address from its website. The group runs a number of campaigns, one of which is in favour of the alternative vote system. One of its chief forms of campaigning is to get visitors to fill in their details and send off a template email to their local MP. For Raab and other MPs, this means dozens, if not hundreds of similar looking emails arriving in their inbox on a certain issue – something he calls “lobby group politics”.
It is difficult to find much sympathy for Raab. His email address is provided by the Commons and is intended for his constituents to get hold of him. His attempts to get it removed from the public domain (as appears to be the case from the email correspondence published on 38 degrees’ website) runs entirely counter to the idea of representative politics.
But Raab is not alone. Before the election, I talked to a host of local candidates who complained of similar campaigns clogging up their inboxes. Some of them were actually quite forceful in tone (one children’s charity asked candidates to sign up to a list of spending pledges with the tagline “Will you stand up for children?”). Another MP tells us that one of his posters in his constituency was defaced after he neglected to sign up to a campaign.