If the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Peter Shergold, goes to Defence, will it be a demotion? No, say Crikey readers:
If this does go ahead, it will be because “The Bournemouth Anarchist”, as Shergold occasionally styles himself, has served brilliantly in every post he has held so far, and will be expected to do so again in Defence. He’s a thoroughly likeable bloke, intellectually very sharp, open and held in genuinely affection by his staff (not just admired). Unlike Arthur Tange, one of the great heads of Defence, he never resorts to abuse, temper tantrums or self aggrandisement. Sounds to me that the PM has a problem in Defence and is willing to bear the pain of losing Shergold as his own Departmental head if it will lead to the “fixing” of Defence.
True, it’s seen as unusual to see a head of PM&C go to Defence. The last comparable move was when Tange left Foreign Affairs – but that was seen as a promotion.
But such a move could only be seen as a demotion in the context that the Secretary of PM&C is seen as prima inter pares – the head of the public service – and plays a key role in shortlisting contenders for the positions of heads of other departments.
Of course, the question of Shergold’s replacement by Jane Halton – under a very dark cloud since a certain maritime incident – is a matter for another day.