Sunday 28 June 2020

The Man in the Light Grey Suit

I'm still making the prediction that Newsnight's policy editor Lewis Goodall will eventually quit his BBC job and become Sir Keir Starmer's director of communications. 

If that happens, you heard it here first.

Though probably only noticed by those who watch Newsnight and largely lauded to the skies by left-wingers and pro-EU types (with spiders) on the noisy, minority echo chamber of the 14% of the population who get involved in Twitter, Lewis has led the forensic charge against the Tories for months - and done so far more effectively and fiercely than the official opposition.

He's a skilled journalist, some of whose reporting (such of that over coronavirus, dementia and care homes) has been excellent. 

But Lewis is pretty much a give-no-quarter kind of journalist as far as this Tory government goes - and that's not what traditional BBC journalism is meant to be about. 

Every story is mined for possible attack lines. 

And he is pretty much all about attack, attack, attack.

And he does seem to have a personal grudge against Dominic Cummings. 

And his Twitter feed must make the BBC's impartiality tsar David Jordan scream like that nervy chap in the Munch painting every time he comes across it. 

See what you think. I've transcribed and annotated a Twitter thread of his tonight. To me it seems typical of his opinionated BBC Newsnight reporting: 

NEW: as per @SebastianEPayne scoop from earlier today, Sir Mark Sedwill resign as Cabinet Secretary (and National Security Adviser) in September. That will make him the shortest serving Cabinet Secretary in the history of the post, with less than two years in office.

Thoughts on Sedwill
-another senior civil servant bites dust (following Home Office/FCO)
-v unusual for a Cab Sec to serve such little time. Will add weight to those who argue that service is being/risks being politicised. 
-not least re timing- before Brexit/middle of pandemic.

-Sedwill fried to get close to Cummings, it worked for a while but in the end, Sedwill crossed him and he couldn’t survive it. Despite Barnard Castle, Cummings writ is as strong as ever. 

-It’s clear that No 10 intends to pin some blame for a poor Covid performance on civil service, as part of “failings of British state”. But we shouldn’t forget that the momentous Covid decisions (eg lockdown timing) were political, not administrative.

Ergo if govt is effectively engaged in an exercise looking at culpability, it can’t look only at civil servants/behaviour of the public, which occupies much of their activity at the moment, without looking honestly at ministerial action, something which publicly is largely absent

Everything has to be looked at in the round, something other countries have already started on, with mini-inquiries to report back before the autumn, looking at every aspect of policy. It’s something the govt seems very reluctant to emulate at the moment.

In sum though, it’s clear that Sedwill came to be seen as a barrier to reform, a check on what Mr Cummings, Mr Gove and others, want to do- a new “blob”. And with these particular political actors, we know what happens to the blob...
Fwiw don’t think Frost is the story is here, which some getting worked up about. Frost was a civil servant, in FCO for yrs and NSA job was only created in 2010 with 4 holders. The far bigger story is Sedwill potentially being forced out after little time in middle of a pandemic...

Especially in terms of this administration’s history with other senior civ servants and what it says about their relationship with brakes on power; something no govt wants (Blair didn’t like his cab secs either) but which has proven a major theme of the Johnson/Cummings period.

It is, simply, without precedent for a Cabinet Secretary to serve such a short period in office.

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