This book is the official history of British Cabinet Secretaries, the most senior civil servants in UK government, from the post-war period up to 2002.
In December 1916 Maurice Hankey sat at the Cabinet table to take the first official record of Cabinet decisions. Prior to this there had been no formal Cabinet agenda and no record of Cabinet decisions. Using authoritative government papers, some of which have not yet been released for public scrutiny, this book tells the story of Hankey’s post-war successors as they advised British Prime Ministers and recorded Cabinet’s crucial decisions as the country struggled through the exhaustion that followed World War II, grappled with a weak economy that could not support its world ambitions, saw the end of the post-war economic and social consensus and faced the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers symbol of Western dominance. It looks at events through the eyes of politically neutral senior civil servants, the mandarins of Britain. It shows how the dramatic foreshortening of timescales and global news have complicated the working lives of those who daily face the deluge of potentially destabilising events – the skills required to see dangers and opportunities around corners, when to calm things down and when to accelerate action; why secrecy is endemic when government comes close to losing control or when political ambition threatens self-destruction.
This book will be of great interest to students of British politics, British history and British government.
'Ian Beesley has had unprecedented access to the files of half-a-dozen of Whitehall's ultimate men of secrets, the Cabinet Secretaries -- the powerful yet elusive figures at the elbows of successive prime ministers. His pages brim with knowledge of who they were, how they did their job and all set in the wider political context of their time in office. Anyone interested in how British government works will learn heaps from this book.’-- Peter Hennessy, Attlee Professor of Contemporary British History at Queen Mary, University of London
'In preparing the authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher, I have been struck by how much modern Prime Ministers owe to the Cabinet Secretary of the day. Yet the public know very little about these people, what they do, and how much good government depends upon their wisdom and cool judgment. Now, thanks to this book, with its full use of official records, we all have the chance to find out.’-- Charles Moore, author of Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography
'In the 100-year existence of the Cabinet Office there have been just 11 Cabinet Secretaries and little is known about their role, styles and influence. That gap has now been filled by this detailed account of the post-war years to 2002.’ -- Gus O’Donnell, Cabinet Secretary, 2005-11
1. To make Ministers appear more competent than they could possibly be
2. The Craftsman - Sir Norman Brook 1947-62
3. The Mandarins’ Mandarin - Sir Burke Trend 1963-73
4. Iron fist in Velvet Glove - Sir John Hunt 1973-79
5. The Ultimate Courtier - Sir Robert Armstrong 1980-87
6. Captain of the First XI - Sir Robin Butler 1987-97
7. Mission Impossible - Sir Richard Wilson 1998-2002
The Government Official History series began in 1919 with wartime histories, and the peacetime series was inaugurated in 1966 by Harold Wilson. The aim of the series is to produce major histories in their own right, compiled by historians eminent in the field, who are afforded free access to all relevant material in the official archives. The Histories also provide a trusted secondary source for other historians and researchers while the official records are not in the public domain. The main criteria for selection of topics are that the histories should record important episodes or themes of British history while the official records can still be supplemented by the recollections of key players; and that they should be of general interest, and, preferably, involve the records of more than one government department.