Farewell to Tarzan's advice

Lord Heseltine Image copyright HoL

So. Farewell. Then. Michael Heseltine.

After voting against the government on Lords amendments to the Article 50 Bill, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, has been ousted from his job as an advisor in the Department of Communities and Local Government.

And while most of the coverage has focused on the defenestration of a Tory grandee with a ministerial record which began under Ted Heath, it is worth taking a moment to look at what that advisory job comprised.

Because Lord Heseltine was not a "Government Advisor" in the sense that he was invited to a few power breakfasts, as a courtesy to an old stager; on the contrary he was the policy powerhouse for the government's City Devolution agenda, which has resulted in the creation of new-look metro mayors dotted across England.

The secret of his power was partly his closeness to the former Chancellor, George Osborne, and the former DCLG Secretary Greg Clark, but my spies tell me that he worked well with Mr Clark's successor, Sajid Javid, continuing to put in three days a week in his office next door to the secretary of state.

The Clark-Hezza double act travelled the country striking bargains between central government and the cities to devolve powers and resources - they were an effective combination in the charm offensive which drove that City Devolution agenda.

Clark was charming, Hezza was (occasionally) offensive, in one case issuing a blunt warning to councillors eyeing a takeover of Further Education and skill training, they should not expect to be given control when the schools they controlled were so poor.

"It was like walking into a room with a film star," one aide recalled. "They parted before him like the Red Sea. He's a huge talent in the urban regeneration space."

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Media captionLord Forsyth and Lord Heseltine clash during debate on the Brexit bill

His was a policy agenda honed over nearly half a century. As a junior minister in what was then the Department for the Environment, he was in charge of regenerating London's South Bank.

As environment secretary under Margaret Thatcher he was minister for Merseyside. As deputy prime minister under John Major, he was in the business again. In his spell in the wilderness in the mid 1980s he penned Where There's A Will, a manifesto for an interventionist industrial policy, underpinned by muscular big city councils headed by elected mayors. Sound familiar?

Heseltine was a major player in the quiet reshaping of the local government landscape, which has been under way since the Coalition took office in 2010 - his departure, following the removal of George Osborne and the promotion of Greg Clark to business secretary means that the original team behind that effort have all, one way or another, moved on.

The prime minister, by all the normal Westminster rules, could brook no Brexit opposition from anyone serving in her government, however exalted, in whatever capacity - but her quest for a post-Brexit industrial strategy will be harder without the leading apostle of the whole idea.

And for Sajid Javid the problem now is to replace the enormous wealth of experience and political charisma Heseltine brought to bear.

The distinctive yodel of the Lord of the Jungle will be difficult to imitate.