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June 8, 2011 3:54 am
Rarely is a top mandarin monstered on the Daily Mail’s front page. It happened this week to Jeremy Heywood, permanent secretary at No 10. Labelled as the man at the heart of the care homes scandal, he had worked at Morgan Stanley and was boss of the team advising on the 2006 sale of the troubled Southern Cross care homes group.
Unfair to blame him for decisions made five years ago for which he was not directly responsible? Yes – though the deal left the group with a weaker balance sheet than it would otherwise have had. Fair or not, the news will surely scupper his chances of succeeding Sir Gus O’Donnell as cabinet secretary. The smart money must now be on Helen Ghosh at the Home Office. Meanwhile, Mr Heywood must stand back from any role in care homes policy.
Former cabinet secretary Sir Andrew, now Lord, Turnbull has launched an unprecedented attack on his fellow mandarins for what he sees as their failure to challenge the political consensus on global warming. In a paper entitled The Really Inconvenient Truth, Lord Turnbull gives a passionate critique of “warmists”. After a lifetime of murmuring “on the one hand and on the other, minister”, he lets rip.
He lays into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC – which believes man-made carbon emissions are the main cause of climate change. He says their view is “oversimplified” and their work “shabby”, with too many “dramatic claims” about rising sea levels, melting glaciers, crop yields and the extinction of polar bears.
Insisting that our climate has always fluctuated, Lord Turnbull claims that “by and large humanity has prospered in warmer periods”. As you might expect from a former top official at the Treasury, his paper has plenty of facts and figures as well as rhetoric. Yet as a former Whitehall insider, it is his questioning of establishment motives that catches the eye.
Great figures of the past such as Galileo and Darwin, he says, “did not receive large government research grants and were not showered with honours”. Driven “by curiosity”, they were prepared to challenge conventional wisdom.
In contrast, today’s environmental scientists “have jobs and research ratings to protect as well as celebrity and airmiles”. There has been a “shameful failure” by the grandees of the Royal Society who “should have been the guardians of scientific integrity”. Instead, scientists have become campaigners, trying to close down debate. As for politicians, he says “uncritical adoption of the green agenda” by the Tories has been designed to help them escape “the nasty party image”.
Then comes his unkindest cut. Calling for “an end to alarmist propaganda”, Lord Turnbull says: “I am disappointed that so many of my former colleagues in the civil service seem so ready to go along unquestioningly with the consensus.”
So is he right? “It’s simply not true – Andrew’s got it wrong,” protested one senior figure. He added that officials covering transport, business and energy were being “very forceful” about curbing the greener instincts of Chris “Nul Points” Huhne, the climate change secretary.
Let us hope he is right that some senior officials are taking a sceptical view of the green agenda. Whether Lord Turnbull’s suspicions about his former colleagues are misplaced or not, he is right to call for more open-mindedness in Whitehall and less reliance on the prevailing orthodoxy.
This week sees the launch of a new book – Off Message – the Complete Antidote to Political Humbug – written by the irrepressible Bob Marshall-Andrews, former Labour MP. Many of his tales manage to combine horror and hilarity.
Asked once on Radio 4’s Today programme about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he said: “I think we have the best chancellor for half a century and the worst prime minister for a century and a half.”
When chief whip Hilary Armstrong summoned him and demanded to know how could he have said such a thing, he admitted he had been wrong. “It was early in the morning,” he said. “On reflection, I think it’s necessary to go back to Wellington to find a PM who treated his own people with more contempt and deceit.” The chief paused. “Well,” she said, “I wish you’d made that clear at the time.”
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