He’s gone … (yes, he does look like Sir Humphrey …)
The one news item today, as far as I’m concerned, is Sir Mark Sedwill’s resignation and how our broadsheets are reporting it. It is a perfect example to show the pernicious way in which our top national pacers twist and ‘nudge’ the perception of their readers rather than reporting the plain facts before opinionating on them .
Furthermore, these articles nicely demonstrate how they’re being padded by plain old gossip. Let me just add that it’s wonderful how we peasants, should we dare to enter the public discourse in comment posts, must do so under our own name while all those ‘senior sources’ who spread rumours, placing their negative briefings in the MSM, can do so anonymously.
Here’s what happened over the weekend: on Saturday morning The Times reported that Sedwill’s future was ‘in doubt’ as Downing Street had ‘refused’ to say if he was going to stay or not. We quoted that article in the ‘Daily Betrayal Column’ here. On Saturday evening the DT was stoking the rumour mill, reporting at 9.30pm that Johnson was going to “oust” Sedwill as early as Monday, that is today, with Cummings already being fingered as the culprit:
“The ousting of Sir Mark will be the most obvious signal that a long-planned shake-up of the Civil Service by Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief aide, is gathering pace. Several sources told The Sunday Telegraph that an announcement would be made about Sir Mark’s future as early as Monday.” (link)
Yesterday morning, The Times stirred things a bit more with an article telling the Nation that Johnson would be looking for an ‘outsider’ to replace Sedwill should he go this week, writing that Sedwill “has also been the victim of hostile briefings.” (link, paywalled)
Note the reference to ‘hostile briefings’. If there had been such briefings they certainly didn’t make it into the daily reports in our broadsheets. My memory may be less than perfect but I surely would have noticed had such ‘hostile briefings’ surfaced! Instead, I’ve remarked on many occasions that Sedwill had vanished from the MSM while noticing a lot of ‘hostile briefings’ against Johnson and Cummings, especially during the ‘Cummings War’.
Here’s another new development – gossip, ahem: ‘briefings’ now also come from “Whitehall insiders”, whoever they might be – perhaps they re just the same ‘senior source’? See this:
“If he is ousted as cabinet secretary, Whitehall insiders expect him to leave the civil service. “He is a career securocrat and I expect will either step back into the national security role — which I think is unlikely — or step back completely,” said a civil service source. “He’s not at heart an administrator.”(link, paywalled)
I do wish we could hear from ‘junior sources’ … ! Then the event snowballed. Yesterday evening, the DT reported at 8.36pm that Sedwill announced he would stand down from his Cabinet role. Obviously, in order to keep that MSM ‘war against Cummings’ going, a reference to him had to be inserted:
“His resignation signals that a long-planned shake-up of the Civil Service by Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief aide, is gathering pace. Sir Mark has accepted a new role to lead a new G7 panel on Global Economic Security as the UK assumes the presidency and he has also been granted a life-peerage. The Prime Minister has appointed his Europe adviser David Frost as his national security adviser to replace Sir Mark.” (link)
So poor old Sir Mark Sedwill clearly lands on his feet: life peerage and a nice new ‘job’ which will allow him to network amongst the top industrial nations in case he needs to bolster his income further.
The DT followed that report with another, published an hour later. These Whitehall ‘sources’ are clearly on the warpath. In their zeal to defend one of their own they attack Cummings and by extension Johnson:
“Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, will stand down in September after losing a power struggle with Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings. The civil service union responded by accusing Downing Street of spending months undermining Sir Mark with “corrosive and cowardly” anonymous briefings.” (link)
Poor Mark Sedwill! Again, I cannot recall any of those ‘cowardly anonymous briefings’ having seen the light of day in our broadsheets – I’m sure you can help me out and tell me if you have found any! I do recall the briefings against Cummings though – and note again that it’s ok for ‘Whitehall insiders’ to brief anonymously, generally and ‘corrosively’ against Cummings.
Here’s another quote from that article which shows that Johnson’s cabinet – run by Sedwill – leaked like the proverbial sieve:
“Mr Johnson intends to reform Whitehall by recruiting more Brexiteers and relocating Government departments to the regions, and made it clear to Sir Mark that he was not the man to drive the revolution.” (link)
Who knew about the PM’s intentions? Who knew what he told Sedwill? Was it the person who took the minutes? Who could have leaked this? There’s more though and it serves to show that Remain is still fighting rearguard battles:
“Number 10 has been populated by Mr Johnson with veterans of the Vote Leave campaign, including Mr Cummings. Michael Gove, who ran the Vote Leave campaign with Mr Johnson, used a speech at the weekend to reveal their plans for Whitehall.” (link)
Terrible, innit! It was fine for Ms May to surround herself with her Home Office Sedwill, but Johnson having Leavers in his cabinet? Too shocking! Especially as he aims to replace Sedwill with a Brexiteer, according to ‘sources’!
Thus we arrive at this morning’s report in The Times, published right after midnight, at 12.01am. The headline tells us what to think: “Sir Mark Sedwill quits as UK’s top civil servant amid Dominic Cummings’ war with Whitehall” (link, paywalled). We’re led to believe that the dreadful devil Cummings, having undermined Sedwill with all those ‘vicious, corrosive, anonymous briefings’ which nobody has seen, forced the poor thing to quit! The next passage in that article gives the lie to the ‘rumours’ that ‘outsiders’ would be asked to fill his shoes:
“A cabinet secretary will be chosen in a contest in which only past or present permanent secretaries will be considered. Sources said the winner would be appointed by the end of next month and be in post by the end of August.” (link, paywalled)
There are Whitehall Mandarin Brexiteers? Who knew! To round it up, the Whitehall Trade Union also had to put their oar in:
“The clear-out, preceding a shake-up of the Cabinet Office and changes to the civil service, has raised tensions with the FDA union, which represents civil servants. Dave Penman, its general secretary, accused “No 10 or those around it” of undermining Sir Mark with “anonymous briefings against him over many months”. He added: “This government will emerge weaker as a result.” (link, paywalled)
Yeah right: only mandarins of proven anti-Brexit track record can strengthen the PM’s government … RemainCentral unsurprisingly had to add two more articles shoving Brexit into the mix. One reads like an obituary while the headline – A victory for No 10’s ‘children in battle with the grown-ups’ – insinuates that ‘the children’ have won. That, I assume, is what that Trade Union chief meant when he said the government would emerge weaker as result of this reshuffle. I found this little snippet intriguing:
“Sir Mark was part of Theresa May’s efforts to dilute the influence of Treasury-schooled officials in No 10 that saw the initial part of her government dubbed “Home Office Britain”. He was also, as colleagues admitted at the time, one of the very few people in government capable of working closely with the prime minister. Sir Mark returned the loyalty. He made clear his contempt for cabinet ministers opposed to her Chequers Brexit deal, including Boris Johnson, privately describing them as “children” in June 2018 shortly before he took over.” (link, paywalled)
Yes, there it is, black-on-white: from the top down, Whitehall held Leavers and even those elected by us in contempt. The other article in RemainCentral is about the new role for David Frost who will take over as national security advisor:
“By giving Mr Frost a dual role, the government is sending Brussels a clear signal that it wants negotiations over with as soon as possible. In Michel Barnier the European Union has a single figure devoted to negotiations, but Mr Frost’s time and energy will of necessity be divided. Mr Johnson has said repeatedly that he does not want negotiations on Britain’s future relationship to drag on.” (link, paywalled)
Nothing wrong with that, methinks, unless one is a Remainer. But here comes the first ‘negative’ briefing:
“His position as national security adviser is also likely to prove contentious. Mr Frost is the first political appointment in the role — his four predecessors were all civil servants with extensive national security experience. Mr Frost […] appears to have little experience in intelligence and security. What he does have, however, is the wholesale backing of the prime minister and Dominic Cummings, his most senior adviser.” (link, paywalled)
Given the past history of terrorist attacks in our country one might wonder if those previous civil servants might have been a bit blinded by their ‘extensive experience’. Perhaps, rather than accepting the moans of the Whitehall ‘insiders’ and ‘senior sources’, we’d better see what Mr Frost himself had to say:
“Mr Frost said: “My aim is to support the prime minister in setting a new strategic vision for Britain’s place in the world as an independent country after the end of the EU transition period.”(link, paywalled)
That’s nicely forward-looking and one hopes that his track record of keeping leaks from his EU negotiations to a minimum will stand him in good stead to keep all those ‘senior sources’ buttoned up.
This is a good start to the week where tomorrow’s deadline, begging for an extension, will now surely pass and where we can look forward to some lifting of Lockdown restrictions. Perhaps Johnson is starting to get back to his ‘normal’, after his debilitating CV-19 illness.
Photo by ukcivilservice