Social Skirmishes: a look at the plight of social care ministers

● Who would be a social care minister? It’s a thankless task and no one ever wants to hear the good news. It’s no wonder some of them break under the strain.

We have had Ivan Lewis sending a female staffer text messages deemed “inappropriate”. There was Margaret Hodge witch-hunted for what she did or didn’t do at Islington in the 1990s, and Alan Milburn resigning “to spend more time with his family”.

Liam Byrne, who was care services minister in 2005-6, had it right though. It has recently come to light that he was a demanding man. In an 11-page document called Working with Liam Byrne his minions were informed of office etiquette. “I like a cappuccino when I come in, an espresso at 3pm and soup at 12.30-1pm,” he says before going on to describe how he likes the newspapers “set out in the office before I get in”.

Byrne also warned his staff: “If I see things that are not of acceptable quality, I will blame you.” Which in these buck-passing times is reassuring.

Our favourite, however, is “Never put anything to me unless you understand it and can explain it to me in 60 seconds”, which is very wise advice. Yet you do wonder how 60 seconds with Byrne became a mighty tome of guidelines for social care staff.

Some at the Department of Health relied on tobacco to ease the rigours of office. Well-known expert on Burkina Faso John Reid and jazz fan Ken Clarke were all puffers of ciggies and cigars. And they survived without scandal. Which makes for an interesting moral in these health-obsessed times.

➔ E-mail your anecdotes and observations to

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.