Documents obtained by BBC London shed new light on Tony Blair’s first day at the office as prime minister in May 1997.
The buoyant – though sleep-deprived – new prime minister was presented with hundreds of pages of civil service guidance, on everything from how to introduce a minimum wage to who pays for the drinks in the prime ministerial study.
The senior civil servants writing their advice to the new PM – who had been swept to power in a landslide victory – were aiming to guide him through a labyrinth of protocol and policy.
The text, which is peppered with cheery exclamation marks, includes a warning that he and his wife Cherie may have to spend more on clothes than they did as “private citizens” – something that would become a sore point with Mrs Blair, who objected to spending her own money on a designer wardrobe for official functions.
Mr Blair was advised to give members of the House of Lords ministerial jobs to avoid them “getting sniffy” and blocking his plans to remove peers who had inherited their positions.
Ministers, the then Labour leader was told, should use government cars in a way “that could be defended in public if challenged”.
The civil service also had a dig at Belgium. In advice on how devolution in Scotland and Wales would work within the EU, Belgium was deemed an example of what not do, with “elaborate but badly functioning mechanisms for involving the regions and communities in the agreement of EU legislation.”
“The country’s record on implementation is also poor,” the advice said.
A section is listed in the documents advising on “The appointment of Alistair Campbell” – misspelling the first name of Mr Blair’s communications director Alastair Campbell, who was controversially given the power to direct civil servants. This section was not released in the documents disclosed to the BBC.
On honours, Mr Blair was advised that some MBEs should be given to members of the public in “hands on” jobs such as “lollipop ladies” to prevent the award being eroded by “managerial types”.
The civil service prepares advice for all potential prime ministers, usually the current PM and the leader of the opposition, in the run up to general elections.
Jeremy Corbyn last year met Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to discuss how to implement his manifesto promises if he won power at the general election.
The BBC’s Martin Rosenbaum previously obtained a copy of the advice that Labour Leader Neil Kinnock would have been given if he had been elected in 1992, which advised Kinnock’s plans for a freedom of information law should be watered down. He was defeated by Conservative PM John Major in that election, so the advice was never required.
By contrast, in the advice given to Blair, which was released to the BBC after a two year battle with the Cabinet Office, freedom of information laws were deemed “broadly uncontroversial”, and civil servants considered whether private companies could also be covered by them.
On their living arrangements, the Blairs were told they would only have to pay 50% council tax on their house in Islington if they were resident in 10 Downing Street.
Mr Blair was also implored to be disciplined with who he gave his time. “The surest way to chaos is for others to arrange times to see the PM without consulting the diary secretary!”, he was told.
The civil service also offered detailed policy advice on how to implement the 1997 Labour manifesto.
Blair’s “formidable” constitutional reform plans for the House of Lords were deemed “extremely controversial”, as were his plans for a minimum wage.
That’s something which didn’t match public opinion at the time, according to Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, first elected in 1997.
“People were never taking to the streets on Lords reform. Maybe in parliament it would be controversial, but it never came up on the doorstep” she explained.
She did agree with the civil service, however, that appointing a cabinet was a “pretty gruelling process”, something she said Blair found to be “a logistical nightmare”.
Indeed, evidence of what became known by some as the “TBGBs” – conflict between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair over the direction and leadership of the party – is hinted at even in this advice.
Regarding a suggested removal of powers from the Treasury to the then Department of Trade and Industry, then Cabinet Secretary Robin Butler advised “I understand that Mr Brown strongly opposes such a transfer, and you may want to discuss it with him before deciding”.
The advice also shows how the make up of the civil service has changed in 21 years. Information provided to Blair showed that just 14% of senior civil servants were women in 1996.
The mundane process of day-to-day living in Downing Street featured prominently in the advice.
Tony Blair was told he was entitled to a fully stocked drinks cabinet “maintained by the house manager anywhere in Number 10”.
However, while drinks consumed in his study could be charged to Number 10, he would have to pay for drinks in the Number 10 flat himself, and the Labour Party would have to pay for drinks in the PM’s office in the Commons.
The civil service remarked on financial arrangements for Mr Blair that “I’m sure this will not be top of your agenda”, and his pension was “I am sure, even less on your mind than your salary etc!”.
The advice included a tenancy agreement for the No 10 flat, noting the PM will have to pay for any damage to fixtures and fittings not covered by “fair wear and tear”.
The civil service also complained about the constant need for work on the No 10 flat, with Blair being told “as in any historic building, the task never ends”.
You can download the full documentation released by the Cabinet Office below.