OB Sir Andrew Cahn on Yes, Minister

The last Civics speaker of the academic year was Sir Andrew Cahn.  An OB and former governor, Sir Andrew, more significantly, spent the last two decades in very senior civil service positions both in Whitehall (Principal Private Secretary to a member of John Major’s cabinet) and at the European Commission (Chef de Cabinet to Neil Kinnock and, latterly, CEO of UK Trade and Investment).  He drew on popular perceptions from Yes, Minister and The Thick of It and regaled us with anecdotes which would not have been out of place in either.  Examples included Gordon Brown’s refusal to be told that a particular overseas investment target was impossible and an encounter in the Cabinet Room involving some Malcolm Tuckerish abuse being levelled at Sir Andrew from point blank range.

His talk was followed by a question and answer session which could have gone on for another hour, so many hands went up and never got called.  We were given an insight into the workings of politics behind the scenes, the strengths and weaknesses of the four prime ministers with whom he had worked closely and, finally, some of his predictions for the future.  Sir Andrew believes that by 2050 Britain will be deciding far more issues by referendum but will have slumped from a top 10 economy to around fiftieth in the world.  Every question was dealt with thoughtfully and with great knowledge and authority.  His final advice was Carpe Diem, which he is doing as much as ever in retirement.  Sir Andrew is a director of four companies and on the board of trustees of eight charities.

By Graham Banks, Head of English


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.

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