'James Hacker: Who else is in this department?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well briefly, Sir, I am the Permanent Under Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private Secretary, I too have a Principal Private Secretary and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, 87 Under Secretaries and 219 Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretary are plain Private Secretaries, and the Prime Minister will be appointing two Parliamentary Under Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary.
James Hacker: Do they all type?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: None of us can type. Mrs. McKay types. She is the secretary.'
Of all the secretaries Sir Humphrey mentions, the one few people remember is the last one, the Parliamentary Private Secretary – or PPS. As CoffeeHouse readers will know, a PPS is an MP appointed by a minister to be his or her unpaid conduit to the House of Commons. The PPS is meant to act as a minister's eyes and ears and an appointment as a PPS is seen as the first rung on the ladder towards ministerial office. In the Con-Lib government, many MPs who hoped to become ministers in their right own right have had to satisfy themselves with a PPS job.
But now that nearly all PPSs have been appointed, three in particular have the potential to become quite important for the government: Keith Simpson, Tobias Ellwood and Mark Lancaster, who work for William Hague, Liam Fox and Andrew Mitchell respectively. They all know their onions, have all worked with, or have strong links to, their Secretaries of State. But they are also said to get on far better with each other than their Cabinet superiors.
Forging closer ties between the Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and DFID – a challenge greater than the Prime Minister probably realised it would be and requiring more than just setting up a National Security Council -- could be greatly aided by these three MPs working quietly in the background to ensure that their Secretaries of State can forge a common agenda.