The Great Offices of State


Michael Cockerell is a journalist; political commentator, and historian who has written biographies about almost all of the Twentieth Century Prime Ministers and leading MPs past and present. These include political biographies on Margaret Thatcher (The Making of the Iron Lady, 2008), Edward Heath (Sir Ted: A Film Portrait of Edward Heath, 2005), Alan Clark, Barbara Castle, Roy Jenkins (A Very Social Democrat: A Portrait of Roy Jenkins, 1996), Michael Howard, David Cameron, Denis Healey (The Best Prime Minister Labour Never Had?, 2015) and more recently, one about Boris Johnson the current P.M.

In 2015 the BBC broadcast “The Great Offices of State” where he discussed the Offices of the UK Prime Minister and No. 10, The Office of Home Secretary, The Office of Foreign Secretary and The Office of the Chancellor – The Treasury

The Home Office -the Dark Department

In his look at the Home Office, Cockerell blends fresh access filming with unseen and rare archive and interviews with present and past home secretaries and their senior officials.

The Home Office is sometimes referred to as The Dark Department, due to it’s nature of safeguarding and protecting UK citizens as well as enforcing criminal law and Policing the nature since the days of Sir Robert Peel. The episode clearly shows the struggles between incoming ‘pragmatic’ Home Secretaries against the more restrained and resigned Permanent Secretaries in modern times.

Interviews include past Home Secretaries: Rt. Hon. Lord Roy Jenkins, Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, Rt. Hon. Jackie Smith, Rt. Hon. Alan Johnson, Rt. Hon. David Blunkett, Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke and of course Rt. Hon. Michael Howard QC.

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The Treasury – The Secret Treasury

The treasury has been referred to as the Ministry of Tax and Tears’ and this episode considers the fiscally prudent department and reflects on its austere approach to public spending and opens a l with the Spectators political ‘survivor of the year’ award presented to Alistair Darling

Margaret Thatcher’s monetarist approach to Government finance and her desire to have a strong pound by slashing public spending by the treasury is discussed and also Wilson’s devalued pound, to Jim Callaghan’s approaching the IMF to eventually save it’s value. The episode looks at past Chancellors and their Prime Ministers with interviews from Lord Lamont;  Lord Lawson, Lord Callaghan and Lord Healey, and of course Rht. Hon. Darling who saved Britain from almost total economic collapse in 2008 entering in the austerity years. With also interviews from Margaret Thatcher who remains angry over Chancellor Nigel Lawson’s  resignation, which led eventually to her downfall. The episode also chronicles the Blair and Brown years with interviews with Ed Balls, Geoffrey Robinson, Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell.

We hear from economic professors and treasury officials about the ongoing battles between Government and one of the four most important departments, The HM Treasury. As one Treasury department official put’s it the Treasury was the department that experience ‘it’s post war history is routine punctuated by the most terrible of economic orgy moments.’ 

The Treasury’s own building interior has seen a complete refurbishment going from what Norman Lamont describes as a ‘soviet psychiatric hospital’ to what he now describes as now resembling  a ‘Marriot Hotel’. 

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The Foreign Office – The Palace of Dreams

The Palace of the Foreign office was designed by the architect when Lord Palmerstone was the foreign secretary.

Margaret Thatcher once remarked ‘We’ve got the Department of Agriculture to look after the  farmers, We’ve got a Department of Defence to look after the soldiers, we’ve got the Foreign Office to look after the foreigners’. she was not a great admirer of the role of the department where diplomacy and long term considerations

Interviews with former Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Kenneth Clarke and Civil servants past and present.

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