Sir David Normington – watchdog gets Whitehall’s ‘silent assassin’

Thirty years across a series of departments make the ex-civil servant ideal for the role of ensuring independence, say insiders

He earned the nickname “the silent assassin” during his time in the civil service and he has the war wounds to prove it.

Sir David Normington, the man who is being lined up for a key role in establishing the board of a new press regulator, has had several bruising encounters during his time as a senior official in a series of government departments over a 30-year career.

His was the permanent secretary in the education department under David Blunkett, where he earned his reputation as something of a tough nut, deciding to cut the workforce by a third. This is thought to have counted against him when Normington applied to be Cabinet secretary, losing out to Sir Gus O’Donnell.

He spent five years in the education department before moving to the Home Office, where he found himself at the wrong end of a verbal onslaught by the combative then home secretary John Reid, who branded his department “not fit for purpose”.

Those who know him say he is an ideal candidate to set up an appointments process to make sure the running of the new press regulator is untainted.

“He will easily stand up to any attempts to influence by editors. He is impeccable in terms of impartiality. He would not be seen to be in anyone’s pocket,” said one Labour insider who has worked with him in the past.

“He is a typical civil servant, very formal, but very approachable and quite well liked. If you had to think of a good Sir Humphrey, you would think of David,” the insider added.

He also not afraid to express his opinion. In the department of education, he warned the country could not survive on a small academic elite. “Those who say university is devalued should look to Singapore where almost 70% go on to higher education. Why should we think it adequate that only 43% go at the moment?” he said in an interview given back in 2005.

Normington, who left the civil service in late 2010 to become first civil service commissioner and commissioner for public appointments, has also had his brushes with the press.

He was responsible for the investigation that ended with the police arresting then shadow education minister Damian Green and made headlines after leaving his £185,000-a-year job as permanent secretary at the home office to take up his £85,000-a-year current role, while collecting what the Daily Mail called a “gold plated” civil service pension of around the same amount. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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