Civil servant

Born: December 31st 1961

Died: November 4th 2018

Lord Heywood of Whitehall, who has died aged 56, was a widely-regarded public servant and, latterly, Cabinet Secretary.

Some considered him almost a part of the uncodified British constitution. If this were written down, suggested his former Downing Street colleague Nick Pearce, it would say something like: “Not withstanding the fact that Jeremy Heywood will always be at the centre of power, we are free and equal citizens.”

Indeed, Sir Jeremy – as he became in 2012 – served three Chancellors of the Exchequer and four successive Prime Ministers. As Cabinet Secretary, he sat next to the latter at Cabinet meetings, facilitating an agenda which included his share of crises; from the Great Financial Crash to the current Brexit negotiations, Heywood was at the centre of it all.

Jeremy John Heywood was born in the former mill town of Glossop, Derbyshire, and educated at Bootham School, an independent Quaker institution in York, where he became head boy. His father, Peter Heywood, taught English there, while his mother, Brenda (née Swinbank), was an archaeologist. Heywood then progressed to Hertford College, Oxford, on a scholarship, gaining a First in History and Economics. He completed an MSc in Economics at the London School of Economics before joining the Health & Safety Executive as an economic assistant.

In 1986, Heywood was appointed private secretary to Norman Lamont, who was then Financial Secretary to the Treasury. After a two-year stint with the UK delegation to the International Monetary Fund in Washington, DC, he returned in 1990 to become private secretary to Lamont, who was by then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, remaining as Principal Private Secretary (PPS) when Lamont was promoted to Chancellor.

It was during “Black Wednesday” in 1992 that Heywood first encountered the future Prime Minister David Cameron, then a special adviser at the Treasury. Heywood also met his wife, Dr Suzanne Cook, while working on an expenditure review which implemented such savage cuts that civil servants apparently referred to Heywood’s offices as “the corridor of death”. Heywood continued as PPS to Kenneth Clarke and Gordon Brown, albeit with a break after Clarke’s first Budget to spend six months at Harvard Business School.

In 1997, the year of his marriage to Dr Cook, Tony Blair made Heywood Economic and Domestic Secretary at Downing Street, and in 1999 his PPS. He left four years later to work at Morgan Stanley as co-head of its UK Investment Banking Division. There, he became embroiled in the aftermath of the collapse of Southern Cross Healthcare.

Some also suggested Heywood was complicit in the much-criticised “sofa government” approach of the Blair era, citing a lack of sufficient distance from his political chiefs and, more pointedly, his failure to minute meetings regarding the government scientist David Kelly. Heywood was also targeted for vetoing the release of communications between Blair and President George W. Bush prior to the Iraq War. The media, meanwhile, disliked his approach to Freedom of Information.

More recently, Sir Jeremy was criticised for his role in the European referendum. He defended himself and his colleagues in a blog, saying the civil service had been “scrupulous” in producing work “as we should, at pace and with accuracy”.

In 2007, as his old boss Gordon Brown finally moved into Number 10, Heywood was appointed Head of Domestic Policy and Strategy at the Cabinet Office, where he dealt with considerable fallout from the financial downturn.

In 2011, Heywood was revealed as the new Cabinet Secretary, and knighted upon taking up the post on 1 January 2012.

Sir Jeremy was softly spoken (he never quite lost his Northern cadence), his calm belying a phenomenal work rate. Appropriately, he kept a bust of Gandhi on his office mantelpiece, for he somehow managed to play peacemaker between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives (in coalition from 2010-15) and, after the 2016 referendum, warring factions of the Conservative Party.

He was not, however, the stereotypical mandarin of old, and could stray close to traditional constitutional boundaries. Shortly before the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the Queen told a crowd near Balmoral: “I hope people will think very carefully about the future.” It later emerged Heywood had co-written those words with the Sovereign’s private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt.

A 2012 profile following Heywood’s appointment as Cabinet Secretary noted that “he could be in this crucial job for many years”, but it wasn’t to be. Diagnosed with cancer in June 2017, he continued working throughout his treatment but took leave of absence in June 2018, retiring on health grounds on 24 October.

A few days later Sir Jeremy was awarded a peerage, the norm for former Cabinet Secretaries, but he did not live long enough to be introduced to the House of Lords. Tributes following his death on November 4th were striking in their unanimity across the political divide.

He is survived by his wife and three children, a son, and a twin son and daughter.

Lindsay Brydon