It’s not me or you who runs this country, it’s a woman called Sue
I WAS meeting Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin in the small restaurant tucked away in the No10 basement. At one point, I quietly suggested a minor reorganisation of government.
‘My dear boy,’ said Oliver, chuckling. ‘It is simply impossible. Impossible.’
‘Why?’ I replied. ‘If the PM wants it…’
‘Oh David, how charmingly naive you are,’ came the reply. ‘The PM doesn’t decide these things! When I was first in
government, I assumed, like you, that if the PM wanted something, it just happened. Then I realised it wasn’t that simple; that power lies elsewhere. I assumed the Cabinet Secretary must be the real source of power. I was wrong there too. Then I suspected it must be the Head of the Home Civil Service – wrong again.’
Now shaking uncontrollably with laughter, and struggling to avoid spraying half-drunk coffee across the table, Oliver only just managed to blurt out: ‘It took me precisely two years before I realised finally who it is that runs Britain. Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the Head of Ethics or something in the Cabinet Office.
‘Unless she agrees, things just don’t happen. Cabinet reshuffles, departmental reorganisations, the whole lot – it’s all down to Sue Gray. Nothing moves in Whitehall unless Sue says so. She gets to censor our memoirs too! Our poor, deluded voters think the Prime Minister holds the reins of power. Wrong! The truth is our real leader, Sue Gray, sits at a small desk in the Cabinet Office. If only the Chinese and the Russians knew! They have probably been bugging all the wrong phones for years.’ He then descended into another fit of giggles.
IN CHARGE: Cabinet Office’s Sue Gray wields the power at Westminster