MI6 decides? Royal messenger, or key political player?

Tony Gosling tony at cultureshop.org.uk
Thu May 7 18:49:11 BST 2015

A mere royal messenger, or a key political player?

  MARCH 23RD, 2015 - 12:47 
AM  <http://www.thenational.scot/author/george_kerevan>GEORGE KEREVAN

YOU probably haven’t heard of Sir Christopher 
Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary. But you 
soon may. For in the bleary hours of the morning 
of May 8 – should the electoral calculus produce 
a hung parliament – Sir Chris will be at the 
heart of the process to cobble together a new 
government. He is one apex of the so-called 
“golden triangle”, together with Cabinet 
Secretary Jeremy Heywood and Chris Martin, the 
Prime Minister’s principal private secretary. 
Collectively, they will orchestrate negotiations 
with the palace that must end in Britain’s next 
Prime Minister being called to Buck House to kiss hands.

Geidt gets angry – not to mention litigious – at 
any suggestion he is anything other than an 
anonymous cipher, a mere liaison person between 
the monarch and her ministers, and someone with 
no opinion of his own as to who forms the next 
government. To suggest otherwise is to invite the 
accusation one has watched too many episodes of 
Wolf Hall. No, no: Sir Christopher is no Thomas 
Cromwell, no Establishment eminence grise!

However, read the private secretary’s job 
description on the official royal website and one 
finds this: “The Private Secretary informs and 
advises The Queen on constitutional, governmental 
and political matters in the United Kingdom and 
the Commonwealth.” In other words, should Britain 
find itself without a majority Government when 
the sun rises on May 8, it will be Geidt who 
“advises” the Head of State on the constitutional 
niceties of what happens next. Others will no 
doubt struggle to be heard but the “adviser” 
closest to the ear of the Queen is Geidt.

No-one could be more Establishment that Sir 
Christopher Geidt KCB, KCVO, OBE. He was born in 
1961 and attended prep in Oxford before being 
sent to the pukka Glenalmond boarding school in 
Perthshire. In 2007, pupils at Glenalmond hit the 
headlines after they made a spoof video that 
featured them “hunting” local working-class 
“chavs” on horseback and shooting them with 
shotguns – it’s still on YouTube. In 2008, a BBC 
fly-on-the-wall documentary exposed a culture of 
bullying at Glenalmond. One pupil complained: 
“When I first came here I was called a chav 
because I had a strong Scottish accent.”

In point of fact, Geidt is Scots on his mother’s 
side – a Mackenzie. His grandfather, Kenneth 
Mackenzie, was a fish curer and coal merchant 
before setting up a successful Harris Tweed 
factory in Stornoway, where he later became 
provost. Geidt still owns a 365-acre sheep farm 
on the Isle of Lewis, and has been seen helping 
with the lambing. Whether he purred following the 
referendum result, I have no idea.

After Glenalmond, Geidt enlisted in the Scots 
Guards and was subsequently commissioned as an 
officer in army intelligence. By the way, Geidt 
hates being referred to as a spook. From 1994, he 
worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office 
and EU in sensitive diplomatic postings, such as 
Sarajevo at the height of the Serb-Bosnian war. 
He actually liaised directly with Radovan 
Karadzic and the odious General Ratko Mladic, 
both later indicted for war crimes.

In October 1989, Geidt and another former army 
officer turned up in Pol Pot’s Cambodia 
ostensibly to observe Vietnamese troops pull out 
of the country. During a subsequent House of 
Commons debate, Labour MP Bob Cryer used 
parliamentary privilege to query why Geidt was 
there: “Surely not MI6?” In 1991, Geidt sued the 
left-wing journalist John Pilger over a TV 
documentary that accused him of training Pol 
Pot’s Khmer Rouge. This accusation was clearly 
nonsense and Geidt won substantial damages. 
However, his career history is a curious mix of 
military intelligence, security analysis and 
crisis diplomacy. That hardly suggests his current role is a sinecure.

Geidt is routinely described as “suave” but he 
can also be prickly. In 2013, he complained to 
the Press Complaints Commission regarding 
critical articles in the ultra-liberal Guardian 
newspaper. He repudiated The Guardian’s claim 
that he personally was “one of the final 
arbiters” of a new and more restrictive Royal 
Charter on press regulation. The paper insisted 
there was a clear public interest case for 
investigating Geidt’s role in the Charter. 
However, the PCC upheld the complaint and the 
offending articles have been purged from the 
paper’s website. One up to the Establishment.

I dare say that Geidt genuinely believes he is a 
mere liaison chappie. Equally, I think he was 
recruited by the Royal Household to provide the 
monarchy with a worldly wise political adviser 
capable of protecting it from an intrusive media, 
and piloting it (with privileges intact) through 
the constitutional whirlwind unleashed by 
devolution. We have to bear that in mind come the election.

Geidt will reply that the cardinal rule of 
Britain’s archaic, unwritten constitution is that 
the monarch acts only on the advice of ministers. 
However, the whole point of having an unwritten 
constitution is that “precedent” can be junked 
the moment the Establishment finds itself in an 
existential crisis. The Crown is “kept out of 
politics” so it can be invoked as a referee when 
the Establishment’s interests are threatened, 
especially by a popular democratic upsurge. That 
is Sir Christopher Geidt’s real job.

We’ve been here before. After the inconclusive 
General Election in 2010, the SNP proposed to 
Labour the formation of a “progressive alliance” 
to keep the Tories from entering Downing Street. 
With the LibDems, SNP and smaller parties of the 
left, Labour could have commanded a working 
majority on major votes of between 23 and 31. 
Goodbye bedroom tax and NHS privatisation. 
Instead, Labour made ineffectual overtures to the 
LibDems alone. Sensing he had the upper hand, 
Nick Clegg demanded Gordon Brown quit as PM. 
Brown resigned office – but before a replacement 
government had be agreed. Convention requires the 
existing PM hold the fort until someone emerges 
who can command a parliamentary majority.

There was consternation at the palace in case the 
Queen found herself having to pick a PM quickly 
without political cover. Fortunately for the 
Establishment, Sir Christopher Geidt was on the 
case. According to Peter Riddell of the Institute 
for Government: “Geidt was very active. His role 
was a kind of super-journalist: to find out what 
is going on 
 to find out the political mood and 
developments, and report this back to the Queen.” 
Geidt was able to report that Cameron and Clegg 
wanted to tie the knot. The palace could safely 
twiddle its thumbs in anticipation.Crisis averted.

Current polls predict a reasonably healthy 
left-of-centre majority in the next House of 
Commons – provided there is a big bloc of SNP 
members. The danger lies in the British 
Establishment and the rabid London media working 
to divide any prospective progressive alliance 
before it gets started. If negotiations become 
protracted, we will hear talk of constitutional 
crisis and threats to the future of the Union. 
Cameron, as sitting PM, will try to cling to 
office. Subservient Labour backbenchers with an 
eye on a peerage will bleat about the need for 
national unity. There will be much talk of the 
need to keep the Queen “above the fray”. All in 
all, a situation tailor-made for the peculiar talents of Sir Christopher Geidt.

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