Sir Cover-Up, Sir Craig and the Curious Case of His Memoirs

The rules for a former Special Adviser wanting to write a book on their time in government are very clear: Sir Jeremy Heywood must give his personal approval. As the Code of Conduct for SpAds states: “The permission of the Cabinet Secretary must be sought before publishing, or entering into a contractual commitment to publish such memoirs”. Sir Craig Oliver’s memoirs, then, must have secured Heywood’s approval before the book deal was signed. Yet a year-long Freedom of Information campaign raises questions as to whether the rules were followed…

Sir Craig’s book is full of privileged information. It discusses the contents of a phone call between David Cameron and Barack Obama (pages 62-63). It discusses the contents of various Cabinet meetings (pages 95-96, pages 376-379). It discusses the contents of a meeting between Obama and the Cabinet (pages 196-197). Now, it has consistently been government policy, championed by Heywood, not to release details of conversations between the PM and US Presidents, or to release details of Cabinet discussions. A co-conspirator tested this by sending a very specific FoI request seeking the exact same information published in Sir Craig’s book. The Cabinet Office refused to disclose it on grounds of “prejudicing relations between the UK and any other State” and protecting Cabinet privacy.

So the Cabinet Office is on record that releasing this specific information could prejudice relations with the US. Why, then, was Sir Craig allowed to publish it?

Guido’s co-conspirator has spent the last year trying to find out. On 3 November 2016, in response to another FoI request, the Cabinet Office said Sir Craig “followed the process for publishing personal memoirs as set out in the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers”. In other words, nothing to see here.

Yet eight months later, in response to an internal review of the FoI response, on 27 July 2017 the Cabinet Office was forced to admit it “does not hold any recorded information to show there was a discussion prior to Mr Oliver signing a contract with a publisher”.

Hang on a minute. If there is no record in the Cabinet Office of any discussion prior to Sir Craig signing his book deal, how can he have possibly “followed the process” which requires “the permission of the Cabinet Secretary” before “entering into a contractual commitment”Uh oh…

The Cabinet Office say Sir Craig did submit his manuscript before publication, meaning Heywood could have prevented the release of restricted information but chose not to do so. This all raises several questions. First, Sir Craig could be in big trouble if the rules on securing permission before signing a book deal were not followed, as the Cabinet Office appeared to admit. Indeed the government has seized the profits of books which breached the rules before – an outcome which definitely wouldn’t be hilarious. Secondly, if Heywood did sign the book off prior to publication, why did he sanction the release of privileged information that the Cabinet Office says “prejudices relations” between the UK and US? It is hard to see how Sir Craig and Sir Cover-Up can both have kept to the rules. This could unleash some demons…

Policy Exchange Pinch SpAd to Head Relaunch

Guido hears Gavin Williamson’s SpAd Rupert Oldham-Reid is departing to become Policy Exchange’s new director of research and strategy. PX is relaunching its domestic policy work after spending the last couple of years focusing on extremism, counter-terrorism and foreign policy. Oldham-Reid has been with the Chief Whip for the past year, before which he was a wonk at the Charity Commission and Centre for Social Justice. There is obviously a policy vacuum on the centre-right at the moment, it has often been said that Theresa May doesn’t have a think tank and the ideas currently exciting voters are coming from the left. Polling today revealing widespread public support for mass nationalisation shows the work that needs to be done. PX is talking up its relationship with Theresa May, whether she is bold enough to embrace new vote-winning policies is another question…

SpAd Movements: Gove Hires Vote Leaver

Guido hears Michael Gove has signed up Vote Leave alumnus James Starkie as his new media SpAd. Starkie was a soldier of the referendum, he ran regional press for the Leave campaign before joining Portland to work on their Brexit unit. He replaces Lee Cain who has gone to Number 10. Starkie is a true believer, good to see a new SpAd appointed who actually voted Leave…

Send any updates here

Hammond Hires Sky’s Giles Winn

Guido understands Philip Hammond has hired Sky News’ Giles Winn as his new media SpAd in the Treasury. He will be working alongside his former Sky colleague Poppy Trowbridge. Winn was the editor of Murnaghan and then in charge of interviews at Sky – it’s another example of the government mopping up experienced broadcast veterans from the Sunday shows. He also knows pretty much every Tory MP and Lobby hack since he’s booked most of them for interviews, which can only help. Winn had been set to join PR outfit Pagefield so it’s a bit of a coup for the Treasury to steal him away. This morning’s reports of a Brexit victory for the Chancellor may have been exaggerated, no arguments that this is a Winn for Hammond…

Stewart Jackson Tapped For Davis Job

Guido hears ousted MP Stewart Jackson is in talks to become David Davis’ chief of staff in the Brexit department. Davis is yet to replace his departed spinner James Chapman, an arch-Remainer who has nonetheless left former colleagues perplexed at his relentless determination to damage the government. Several Tory aides have been approached for the job at DExEU. The Brexit Secretary is believed to want a fully on board chief of staff to fulfil a wider ranging role, rather than a reluctant media SpAd misfit. Guido understands talks have been held with Jackson, DD’s PPS before he lost his seat at the election, potentially taking the job. Stewart is as sound as they come, a true believer. His appointment would calm the nerves of Brexiters and focus minds among civil servants at DExEU. Something which needs to happen as soon as possible…

Number 10 Chaos: May Has 8 Fewer SpAds Than Pre-Election

There is chaos in Downing Street: no hierarchy, little communication, humiliation at the hands of the DUP and an embarrassing exodus of top-ranking staff. Number 10 policy chief John Godfrey, one of May’s more senior aides, is the latest to quit.

The full list of Number 10 advisers who have left or are on their way out: Fiona Hill, Nick Timothy, John Godfrey, Katie Perrior, Lizzie Loudon, Chris Brannigan, Will Tanner, Alex Burghart, Neil O’Brien and Chris Hopkins. By Guido’s count May has just 22 SpAds in Downing Street, eight fewer than before the election…

Get in touch with any updates to our SpAd list…

Another No.10 Departure: Iraq War Hero Out

Yesterday Guido told you how the government is understaffed at SpAd level, with Downing Street in particular needing reinforcements after a spate of departures. Here’s another vacancy: a source confirms Chris Brannigan, an Iraq War hero who was the Director of Government Relations at Number 10, is also out. He was the PM’s big business point man. By Guido’s count May now has just 24 advisers, quite a lot fewer than before the election.

If you know of any other updates, let Guido know

Government Understaffed: Key SpAd Vacancies Up For Grabs

Guido has started to put together his SpAd List. We are still some way off appointments being signed off, though there are no Nick and Fi around this time to veto anyone who might show original thought. Number 10 has signed up DCMS SpAd and former Sun man Craig Woodhouse to do press – a much-need hire – though the PM is still without a Director of Communications. May has a lot of appointments to make following the departures of Timothy, Hill, Katie Perrior, Lizzie Loudon, Will Tanner, Alex Burghart and Neil O’Brien. In the Treasury, Philip Hammond has to replace his top SpAds Graham Hook and Hayden Allan. Michael Fallon has vacancies. There is a big media SpAd vacancy for David Davis after James Chapman left – Guido hears DD sounded out several potential candidates during the election campaign but has yet to make an appointment. Tough gig…

If you are a SpAd who has left the government or been promoted or appointed, or if you know of any further moves, get in touch. Guido will post updates as we get them…

Nick Timothy: Brexit Still Has to Mean Brexit

Nick Timothy might be out of Downing Street but he is almost certainly still advising Theresa May off the books. Many MPs are convinced he will just be emailing her from his Gmail account rather than his Number 10 address. Timothy was a Brexiter, one of the sounder people in May’s team on Europe, and had consistently argued to the boss and Cabinet that a real Brexit had to mean leaving the ECJ, single market and customs union. In an article for the Speccie today, he outlines what the PM has to do to fulfil her promise that Brexit means Brexit:

“Skilful leadership may deliver stability, but the absence of an overall majority means the nature of the Brexit deal the government negotiates is more uncertain. There has long been talk of a choice between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ forms of Brexit, with the latter requiring membership of the EU’s single market. Since that would involve accepting the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, vast annual membership payments to the EU, and the continuation of free movement rules, people who voted to leave the European Union might wonder whether advocates of a ‘soft’ departure really do understand that Brexit means Brexit.”

Many Leave Tory MPs who hated Timothy’s manifesto were apprehensive about him leaving Number 10 due to his strong commitment to a real Brexit. They will be hoping Theresa is still listening to him…

Farron Loses Top Spinner

Guido understands Tim Farron’s top spinner Paul Butters is leaving. This will be a major loss to the LibDem leader, Butters is a page lead wizard with a journalist’s mind who was single-handedly responsible for getting his boss’ name in the paper over the last couple of years. His instantly recognisable catchphrase “mate” will be missed by Lobby hacks struggling for stories in the Red Lion. This election really was the massacre of the contacts…

Tory SpAd Voted For Corbyn

It seems the Corbynista contagion permeated the minds of young Tory voters too. Remarkably, and to the bafflement of her former colleagues, it emerges that Stephen Crabb’s ex SpAd Emily Poole voted for Jeremy Corbyn. In a post on her blog, Emily, who worked in both Cameron governments, mourned the demise of Dave’s “cuddly Conservatism” and backed Jez:

“In response to the inevitable question, “but how can you vote Labour though? Jeremy Corbyn is useless/a communist/a terrorist sympathiser”: I’m not saying I think Jeremy Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister. But guess what? The situation we’re currently in isn’t very good either. The NHS is in crisis, our national security is already at risk, first-time buyers haven’t got a hope in hell of saving enough money to own a property and good school places are harder to come by than a Jane Austen £5 note. Do I care whether Jeremy Corbyn would or wouldn’t press the red button? Well why don’t we all just work on the assumption that we’re pretty screwed if we get to that point anyway?”

Red Tory…

Nick and Fi Resign

Nick Timothy out:

“I take responsibility for my part in this election campaign, which was the oversight of our policy programme. In particular, I regret the decision not to include in the manifesto a ceiling as well as a floor in our proposal to help meet the increasing cost of social care. But I would like to make clear that the bizarre media reports about my own role in the policy’s inclusion are wrong: it had been the subject of many months of work within Whitehall, and it was not my personal pet project. I chose not to rebut these reports as they were published, as to have done so would have been a distraction for the campaign. But I take responsibility for the content of the whole manifesto, which I continue to believe is an honest and strong programme for government.”

Read his whole article on ConHome.

A Tory spokesman says Fiona Hill has resigned too. May now all alone in Number 10 without the aides upon whom she depended…

Hammond Loses Another SpAd

Philip Hammond’s long-serving Special Adviser Graham Hook has left government. Hook, a dependable and highly-experienced Whitehall veteran who has worked across four departments, served under Hammond since 2012 and will be a major loss to the Chancellor. Guido hears he left in May and has joined the Investment Association. This is the second major SpAd departure from the Treasury after Hayden Allan left in April. Does not bode well for Hammond ahead of the post-election reshuffle…

Davis SpAd Chappers Out

Was always a bit of an odd move for Chappers to go from Project Fear to the Brexit department. Good luck in the undisclosed new job (expect inevitable rumours that the former Mail pol ed could reunite with his old boss George Osborne at the Standard). Another senior SpAd departs…

Hammond Admits Sweary Rows With Team May

Philip Hammond on the Today programme repeatedly refused to deny reports of rows with Theresa May’s aides, in particular Nick Timothy, and even let slip that he had “occasionally sworn”. When they call it “tittle-tattle” you know it’s true…

Katie Perrior Joins News UK

Guido hears Theresa May’s recently departed Director of Communications Katie Perrior is joining News UK. She will be working as an election pundit for talkRADIO, News’s burgeoning radio station, alongside journalists from the Times and Sun. It has been well-documented that the advisers who have recently left had a frustrating time working in May’s Downing Street. Will make for interesting listening…

No. 10 SpAds Trying to Escape

The exodus from Downing Street is becoming a major theme among senior Tories and the SpAd class. In the last few weeks Number 10 has lost its Director of Communications Katie Perrior, Press Secretary Lizzie Loudon and Official Spokesman Helen Bower. Last year education adviser Rachel Wolf went quietly after Theresa May pressed ahead with grammar schools. Philip Hammond’s SpAd Hayden Allan left last week. The election has provided an excuse for others to jump…

The PM’s social justice adviser Alex Burghart is on the selection shortlist for Eric Pickles’ Brentwood seat tonight. May’s long-serving SpAd Stephen Parkinson is on the shortlist in Saffron Walden. Iraq War hero Chris Brannigan, the Director of Government Relations at Number 10, is on the shortlist in Aldershot. “SuperSpAd” Sheridan Westlake has been strongly linked to several seats. This is a huge, unprecedented exodus…

In 2015, only Oliver Dowden left David Cameron’s Number 10 for the Commons. And that was an election many Tories thought they would lose. The vast majority of Cameron’s SpAds thought their time was better served in Number 10, that they would have more influence in Downing Street than in parliament. Large numbers of May’s SpAds have come to the opposite conclusion. Tory sources tell Guido the feeling is that unless you are in May’s close circle of trusted confidantes, you might as well leave and sit on the backbenches. They say the atmosphere in Number 10 is so toxic that many are desperate to leave. Guido is highly sceptical of rumours that the PM’s Joint Chief of Staff Nick Timothy wants to stand this time round – he is one of the few for whom staying is surely worth it. Though the fact this is even being discussed reveals much about what it is like to work in a Downing Street that will have huge vacancies to fill on June 9…

Another Top SpAd Leaving

Since the election was called Theresa May has lost her spinners Katie Perrior and Lizzie Loudon, and now Philip Hammond has lost his SpAd, the experienced Hayden Allan:

“After working on three General Election campaigns, I always said I wouldn’t stay for a fourth campaign, and after nearly seven years, in three different Government departments, I’ve decided it is time to leave Government to explore new opportunities. It’s been a huge privilege and honour to work in the MoD, FCO and HM Treasury, under two different Prime Ministers and during a period of considerable change, globally and domestically. I wish the Prime Minister and the Chancellor well for the campaign ahead and look forward to the return of a strong Conservative Government on 9 June.”

Apply if you’re happy to take a bucket of negative briefings from Number 10 when the next Budget unravels…

Top May Aide Nick Timothy Gets Crick’d

The long legs of top Theresa May adviser Nick Timothy allow him to run away from Michael Crick’s Tory election expenses questions…

Who’s Who in Jeremy Corbyn’s office?

The latest in the addictive series of Daily Politics SpAd guides. Impressive array of haircuts from Jez’s spin merchant Matt Zarb-Cousins…[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Jo Swinson on Chris Rennard…

“Vince — and Tim before him — have repeatedly, publicly said Rennard is not welcome anywhere near their frontbench team, even as an adviser. I remain deeply frustrated that he was not expelled from the party through its disciplinary process. It just feels wrong, and I do not want Lord Rennard to continue as a member of the party. As far as I am concerned, he is not welcome.”

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