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Summary

The Sunday Times best seller.

As a young civil servant, Jeremy Heywood’s insightful questioning of the status quo pushed him to the centre of political power in this country for more than 25 years.

He directly served four Prime Ministers in various roles including as the first and only Permanent Secretary of 10 Downing Street, the Cabinet Secretary and the Head of the Home Civil Service. He was at the centre of every crisis from the early 1990s until 2018 and most of the key meetings. Invariably, when faced with a new policy initiative a Prime Minister’s first response would be: ‘but what does Jeremy think?’

Jeremy worked up until his death, retiring just a few days before he died from lung cancer in October 2018. This book began as a joint effort between Jeremy and his wife Suzanne – working together in the last months of his life. Suzanne completed the work after his death.

In a time of political uncertainty, this extraordinary book offers an unforgettable and unprecedented insight into political decision-making, crisis management and the extraordinary role of the civil service. It is also a moving celebration of Heywood’s life in the beating heart of UK politics, and a man who for so long was the most powerful non-famous name in Britain.

©2020 Suzanne Heywood (P)2020 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic reviews

"Suzanne and Jeremy Heywood have created a marvellous book which lives, breathes and talks to its reader. There is insight and humanity on every page. It will be a goldmine for historians of government as it really is and it will shine for as long as anyone is interested in Whitehall." (Peter Hennessy)

"The words Civil Servant seem too dry to describe greatness. But Jeremy was a great man whom I look back upon with a sense of pride in what he achieved and a sense of privilege in having achieved at least some of it together." (Tony Blair)

"A collapsing pound, stock exchange crash, leaks, scandals, sackings, banks going under, capital flight, sometimes all in the same morning. Jeremy didn’t need crisis, but crisis needed him." (Gordon Brown) 

What listeners say about What Does Jeremy Think?

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  • Overall
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A remarkable person. The United Kingdom were lucky to have him.

Jeremy Heywood served Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Teresa May mainly as cabinet secretary but later as also head if they civil service. He was there for all the trails abs tribulations of the last 30 years starting with Black Wednesday and ending with Brexit. You get a clear sense of what the civil service is, how it has changed and why it is the bedrock of our nations. It says something about the man that all 4 prime ministers who he served spoke at his funeral.

2 people found this helpful

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A "genius" Civil servant

Jeremy Heywood was described by David Runciman in the Talking Politics podcast as having a kind of genius for networking. But a civil servant, even one that is a genius, is still a civil servant and their reputation for being anonymous and somewhat dull is not contradicted in this account. Part of the problem with the book lies in the fact that the author is no writer and the narrative feels like a PowerPoint presentation with no overall story arc or the ability to exhibit a deeper meaning or theme than so and so happened. The juxtaposition of deeply personal and traumatic events such as several rounds of artificial insemination with the politics seems incongruous or even insensitive without any context or bridge between the two.

With the recent revelations of Greensill adding further weight to this account of Jeremy as highly efficient yet completely amoral this may not be entirely fair but it's hard to see a human being as being this instrument of government. The revolving door between the civil service and management consultancies like McKinsey and the investment banks is very much in evidence but is presented as a simple fact without any justification.

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Fascinating!

What a super listen! Suzanne Heywood’s very well structured and fluently written account sheds light on the UK’s key policy challenges during the period covered, and is a fitting memorial to a man who sadly never had the time to write his own memoir. More than this, it shares personal and even intimate aspects of their lives together that further increase one’s respect for the achievements of Lord Heywood of Whitehall. Well served we were indeed by this exceptional civil servant.

There is nothing wrong at all with Helen Lloyd’s performance although my strong preference, perhaps unreasonable, is to listen to authors themselves reading their own work (as David Cameron did with For The Record). If Lady Heywood can be prevailed up to read it, I’d happily buy this book again.

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Behind-the-scenes account

Hugely interesting to hear this insider account - especially since I remember most of the events covered. Slight sense that JH is being portrayed as always-right and squeaky clean, which is a shame. Horrifying to learn the ineptitude and inability to seek out expertise that shapes government decisions (aircraft carriers etc), but one shouldn't be surprised, really. The last days of JH's life are beautifully conveyed. Really moving; one feels present in the room. Overall, I think the text would be improved if Suzanne Heywood considered using pronouns instead of repeating the word 'Jeremy' over and over within the same sentence/paragraph. This jarred, but I guess it was an editorial decision.

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  • 23-03-21

A fitting tribute

Fitting tribute to a wonderful and brilliant man - what a shame for all of us he is no longer with us.

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Exceptional Read

Very informative and enlightening particularly the period covering Gordon Browns handling of the 2008 financial crisis. Most enjoyable

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Get a better narrator

This book was spoiled by a dreadful narrator! I had to stop listening on many occasions because of her voice. She read without emphasis or feeling and displayed the fact that she clearly did not understand the subject matter of the book. I will avoid her in the future.

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interesting background to modern politics

interesting and occassionally a bit heavy going, trying to remember who some of the players were. Didnt realise how much a government relies on the civil service to work out how to implement its policies, which often are barely half baked. Interesting how Cameron so often knifed his coalition partners in the back. The referendum to change the voting sytem was the main case of this. (With hind-sight The LibDems should have walked,being a very junior partner did not do them any good) Would have liked when she referred to her children in the narrative for her to mention their ages.Just so the listener knows where we are in the time line. Only on two occassions does this happen "Johnny was now taking his GCSEs" and "the twins were now 15".