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Remembering Jeremy Heywood, the civil servant who ran Britain

The former cabinet secretary managed crises for PMs from Major to May. In her memoir, his widow, Suzanne, reveals the inner workings of Whitehall – and its ‘greatest servant’, her husband

Proverbial wisdom insists that no one gets to their final hours wishing they had spent more time in the office. By the account of Suzanne Heywood, however, her husband, Jeremy, would have politely begged to differ. As she writes in her memoir of his extraordinary career, the man who “ran Britain” – and who helped save it once or twice from catastrophe – was still sending emails, making calls right up to the last days of a life cut tragically short at 56. When his inoperable lung cancer spread to his liver, Suzanne half-suggested they took their remaining time together off to go travelling. She knew him much better than to imagine he would say yes.

Instead, they spent a good deal of those precious last months documenting Heywood’s 30 years at the heart of government – in the period roughly from Yes Minister to The Thick of It. As a young Treasury prodigy Jeremy Heywood had helped steer the Major government through Black Wednesday and the ERM crisis; as the wisest of old heads he had tried to help Theresa May firefight her way to Brexit. In between times he had been private secretary to Tony Blair; head of domestic policy for Gordon Brown, cabinet secretary and head of the civil service for David Cameron. Suzanne Heywood calls her book What Does Jeremy Think?, a phrase that was never far from the lips of anyone in government in all of that time.

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