There’s war in Whitehall. The Sunday Times devotes its p2 lead (£) to the fact that Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, is ‘sceptical’ of the Universal Credit, the key to Iain Duncan Smith’s revolutionary welfare reforms. The newspaper has gathered its intelligence by reading the leading article of this week’s Spectator, and repeats our point that civil servants will interpret Heywood’s reservations as a ‘go-slow order’. Here is what our leader column says:
‘Treasury officials have been against Duncan Smith from the start, due to the threat which Universal Credit posed to their beloved tax credits. Ambition in itself is looked down upon by ministers who deride ‘IDS’s grand projet’. Sir Jeremy Heywood, the civil servant effectively running Britain, is letting it be known that he is ‘sceptical’ about Duncan Smith’s mission. This, in Whitehall, is the equivalent of a go-slow order.’
The Sunday Times takes the story on by revealing the fuss caused by our article. A senior source is quoted describing Treasury officials as a ‘law unto themselves’. It then reiterates that the Treasury favours making further cuts to the welfare budget over pursuing radical, lasting reform. IDS has set himself against such a short-term approach, which may explain why he refused to be reshuffled to the justice department.
The Sunday Times also adds that Heywood is not urging departmental permanent secretaries to co-operate with the government. As we say in our leading article:-
‘This Prime Minister should throw his weight behind Duncan Smith rather than seeking to remove him. He ought to remind Sir Jeremy that, as head of the civil service, he is paid not to be ‘sceptical’ about government policy but to implement it.’
IDS is not a man to pull punches. The Sunday Times says that the work and pensions secretary is set to demand in Cabinet that the prime minister honours his standing commitment to welfare reform by confronting Heywood. One wonders how the eminence grise will react to une réprimande, assuming he receives one.
PS from Fraser Nelson: It is odd that the Sunday Times did not find space to credit The Spectator in its story, in spite of quoting twice from our article. But it’s a reminder: information dropped midway into a Spectator piece can often pop up later as a page lead in a newspaper. Once the Daily Mail even splashed the entire newspaper on a fact plucked from our leading article. It led its diary column last Thursday on a quote from James Forsyth’s brilliant interview with the new minister Matthew Hancock (without attribution, the scoundrels).
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PPS The Sunday Times was right to follow our editorial, of course. In doing so, it was a day ahead of the Daily Mail and the Guardian who had to inform their readers about Heywood’s “scepticsm” on Monday – again without acknowledging the source.