Former ministers reveal what it’s really like to be in charge

A series of new interviews with Lord Heseltine, Harriet Harman, Baroness Warsi and Baroness Stowell reveal how ministers feel about running the country.

Published today by the Institute for Government, these four interviews are the latest to be added to the Ministers Reflect project, which records the personal reflections of close to 80 Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat former ministers.

In this latest batch of interviews, the politicians speak about how they worked with the civil service, responded to crises or drove reform. They also offer candid reflections on how they handled their key political relationships and what can be done to help ministers be more effective in government.

Highlights include:

Lord Heseltine: “The loss of opportunities in Europe is serious. This means an industrial strategy is even more important than had we stayed where we were, because our situation is worse now, the urgency is bigger.”

Harriet Harman: “Prime Minister’s Questions, I am afraid, is mortal combat…. Anybody who has tried to be ‘no more Punch and Judy’, which was David Cameron’s line, and Tony Blair saying he was going to do it differently, it just doesn’t work.”

Baroness Warsi: “I had to go away and Google ‘a minister without a portfolio’! Peter Mandelson came up on the search results, so I went ‘OK that sounds quite serious’!”

Baroness Stowell: “Over the last few years, all this public disaffection and disillusionment …. I don’t think those of us in Westminster, Whitehall and Parliament have responded to that in how we legislate. We just keep going in the same way”

Daniel Thornton, Programme Director at the Institute for Government, said:

“The public often have little understanding of what ministers actually do. But Ministers Reflect reveals what it’s like to do the sometimes lonely job of running the country.

“These interviews also highlight the fact that ministers often don’t receive the practical support they need. This is something the Institute for Government seeks to address in our ministerial development work."

Associated projects: