Cover the intimacy of power  1

Have you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes in the corridors of power during a major crisis or after a ministerial reshuffle? How do new government ministers get to grips with their portfolios and priorities? Who guides and supports them? And why, sometimes – during events such as ‘Partygate’ – do things go wrong?

In this meticulously researched book, former senior civil servant Alun Evans lifts the lid on a vital but little-known cog in the machinery of government: private office and the private secretaries who work within it.

Private secretaries exercise huge influence, and yet most of us have never heard of them. They are the ones who manage the flow of work, who whisper quietly in ministers’ ears and who have been Prime Ministers’ closest, most trusted and most discreet confidants. At critical moments in our national history – from the Falklands War to the Westland affair, from Black Wednesday to the 2008 financial crash, from New Labour to the coalition government – they have been central but hidden players.

With exceptional access to former Prime Ministers and decision-makers, Evans explores what private office is and why it matters to British democracy. He argues that following the egregious constitutional breaches of Boris Johnson’s premiership, private office must once again be taken seriously so it can return to being the independent junction box of government and a vital part of the British constitution.


Reviews

“If you want to penetrate the mysteries of a secretive organisation, it is best to start with its back channels. Alun Evans does this for Whitehall private offices with great insight, aplomb and insider knowledge. If you have ever wondered how government at the top really works, open these pages.”

Peter Hennessy

“I warmly commend Alun Evans’s detailed and comprehensive account of the role and history of ministerial private offices in Britain. This has been a neglected subject in political studies, but it is an important piece in the jigsaw of British governance.”

Robin Butler, former Cabinet Secretary

“Anyone with an interest in how No. 10 works in reality should study this brilliant book about the private office, its history and pivotal role in government.”

Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Tony Blair

“Alun Evans’s book skilfully charts the ups and downs of private office from its earliest origins, revealing its vital but poorly understood constitutional role, and includes vivid accounts of the close – sometimes too close – relationships forged between ministers and their private secretaries and the impact this has had on the course of history, for better or worse.”

Caroline Slocock, former private secretary to Margaret Thatcher and John Major

“A really impressive study of one of the most important junction boxes in the hidden wiring of the British Constitution – the ministerial private office.”

John Rentoul
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  • Hardback, 480 pages
  • ISBN: 9781785908323
  • 28 May 2024
  • £25.00
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  • ISBN: 9781785908873
  • 28 May 2024
  • £19.99
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