Revealed: `kitchen Cabinet' that tries to keep the heat off Major
Secret committee of 20 Tories and civil servants aims to steer the gove rnment away from `banana skins'. Donald Macintyre reports
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Tuesday 03 January 1995
The committee, chaired by Richard Ryder, the Chief Whip, in his office at No 12 Downing Street, is an innovation of John Major's premiership and is attended by the Prime Minister's four closest advisers. It meets each morning from Mondays to Thursdays and is the only one handling government-wide business on a day-to-day basis. Norman Blackwell, the new head of the No 10 Policy Unit, is expected to be a key member after the committee resumes in the new year.
The No 12 committee, as it is known to Whitehall insiders, provides striking evidence of the acute importance Mr Major attaches to party management and presentation.
But its unprecedented scale and frequency has provoked private grumbles from some ministers who object to being summoned to appear before it. Doubts have also been expressed by some critics over how far the meetings helped to contain a long series of political and presentational pitfalls during 1994.
One senior Whitehall sceptic, acknowledging the high calibre of many of those present, said: "The input is very good but I'm not sure about the output."
The meeting, which takes place at 9am on Mondays and Wednesdays, and 8.20am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, is designed not only to co-ordinate media presentation of government announcements and policy, but also to keep backbench unrest to a minimum by anticipating the concern of individual MPs over specific proposals. Beside Mr Ryder, the meetings are regularly attended by Greg Knight, his deputy, and on occasions by another departmental whip.
The meeting is also unusual in the extent to which it mixes civil servants with party officials and advisers across Whitehall.
Minutes are normally circulated on a "need to know" basis with only the relevant sections being sent to each department.
Supporters of the system, which did not operate during Baroness Thatcher's administration, argue that it has played a key role in ensuring that departments and ministers adopt similar lines on policy issues. One successful example of the committee's workis said by regular participants to have been the handling of Front Line First, the announcement of defence cuts last year.
The committee was said to have been especially effective in co-ordinating the projection of the cuts to MPs and local press and television in constituencies where the impact on jobs was especially severe.
Other Whitehall sources say the meeting which took place several days before the Front Line First announcement on 14 July did little more than rubber stamp the admirably detailed plans for handling the announcement that had already been worked out in theMinistry of Defence.
In accordance with the committee's normal practice of inviting ministers with important announcements to be made on the day in question, Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence and Jonathan Aitken, then the minister for defence procurement, both attended the meeting.
When departmental ministers attend, they are usually accompanied by their special advisers and directors of information.
Mr Aitken, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is also understood to have attended a recent meeting to discuss how to present government economic policy and capitalise on favourable indicators most effectively during the Christmas recess.
While Mr Major took the unprecedented step of publishing the membership of Cabinet committees, the existence, let alone the size and membership, of the No 12 group, has never been officially acknowledged.
beside the senior whips, those attending in 1994 normally included: tDavid Hunt, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster; tTony Newton, Leader of the Commons; tLord Cranbourne, Leader of the Lords; tJeremy Hanley, Chairman of the Conservative Party; tSarah Hogg, outgoing head of the No10 Policy Unit; tAlex Allen, Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary; tJonathan Hill (now replaced by Howell James) the Prime Minister's Political Secretary; tTim Collins, Director of communications, Conservative CentralOffice; tAndrew Lansley, Head of the Conservative Research Department; tChristopher Meyer, Prime Minister's Press Secretary; tMary Francis, Prime Minister's economic private secretary; tJonathan Haslam, Mr Meyer's deputy; tPraveen Monan, Mr Newton's special adviser; tJohn ward, MP for Poole and the Prime Minister's parliamentary private secretary (PPS) in the House of Commons; tLord McColl of Dulwich, Mr Major's PPS in the Lords; tShana Hole, Mr Ryder's personal assistant and minute-taker of the committee.
Newcastle manager taunted again as his side loses to Stoke
- 1 Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
- 2 Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
- 3 The Simpsons death: Creator Al Jean would 'kill himself' before a character like Homer or Lisa
- 4 British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
- 5 Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven
Five-year-old Iris Grace is raising awareness of autism through her extraordinary paintings
Isis an hour away from Baghdad - with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Car tax disc changes: Two days to go - and they affect you much more than just not displaying a piece of paper
British man raped while urinating in bushes at Oktoberfest beer festival in Germany
George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin wedding: The famous congratulate actor and human rights lawyer after Venice nuptials
Isis, we are told, is a 'clear and dangerous threat to our way of life'. I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
'Women, walk wherever you want' posters taken down in Stamford Hill following 'unacceptable' signs separating men and women
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
- < Previous
- Next >
£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...
£40 per day + Travel Scheme : Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job: Our client ...
NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...
£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...