Race for the Door: Drayson Resigns from UK MoD
Lord Paul Drayson was an accomplished man when he entered government. The founder of the needle-free vaccination firm PowderJect reaped over GBP 80 million, rose to a seat in the House of Lords, and went from an under secretary position to a full Ministry. He then went on to accomplish a great deal over 30 months as Britain’s Minister of State for Defence Equipment and Support. Britain has become the world’s leading practitioner of availability-based support contracts for a wide range of weapons systems, major mergers of government departments have been undertaken to move that approach forward, and NAO audits have confirmed the effectiveness of the new approach. A Defense Industrial Strategy has been put in place that outlines key technical skills Britain believes it must retain, and industry consolidation and changes have followed in its wake as the industrial base moves to adjust. The country is now on track to buy full-size aircraft carriers for the first time in decades, and other shifts have begun, albeit slowly, in the land sector.
How do you top that? How about by submitting the most unusual, way-out, and flat-out interesting senior official government resignation letter we’ve ever seen. Or are likely to see in our lifetimes…
After all, how often does one see a lead paragraph like this concerning a leading government figure in the defense industry?
“Lord Drayson is taking a break from politics to pursue his motor racing career in the United States. He will be replaced by Baroness Ann Taylor. “
Pat McFadden, a minister at the UK Department for Business, will also assume some of the defence responsibilities, albeit in a downgraded role. Drayson was originally appointed as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Defence, but the role was later upgraded to Minister for Defence Equipment and Support. Baroness Taylor’s appointment, however, returns the title to under Secretary of State for Defence.
The lead is not a joke, however. Drayson first competed in the British GT championship in the Barwell team’s DBRS9 in 2006. The Guardian published excerpts from his resignation letter, which read:
As you know I have a passion for motor racing and over the past year have competed in the British GT championship racing a unique bio-ethanol-fuelled race car, achieving a “historic first” win for a green-fuelled car and coming second overall in the championship.
A number of special circumstances have now presented me with a once in a lifetime opportunity to take my racing to the next level. I have the opportunity to race next year in the American Le Mans series in the United States, a key step towards my eventual dream of success in the Le Mans 24 hours endurance race.
For the first time next year the American Le Mans Series will allow bio-ethanol cars to compete and so this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase British motorsport technology for environmentally friendly racing.
It has also coincided with my development as a driver to the point where I am now able to compete at this level.
Unfortunately, it cannot be combined with the challenge of full-time government office so, as we discussed, I am writing to inform you that I wish to take a leave of absence from the government to enable me to do this. Thank you for your support in understanding why I am so keen to pursue my racing ambition.”
Lord Drayson reportedly started racing in 2003 at the age of 43, and until recently even his wife had dismissed it as a midlife crisis. If it is, it’s one of the strongest and finest we’ve ever seen.
Des Browne Secretary of State for Defence said:
“I am sorry to see Lord Drayson leave Government. He has worked tirelessly for over two years to improve the way in which we equip our forces. Paul Drayson can be immensely proud of all he has achieved: the introduction of a Defence Industrial Strategy, the creation of Defence Equipment and Support and the introduction into service of key capabilities such as Typhoon and HMS DARING, to new armoured vehicles for the front line. He has introduced innovation and creative thinking to the procurement process and ensured that our forces have first class equipment. I wish him all the best in the future.”
Even the opposition acknowledged his competence – though they were less enamored of the reason for his departure. Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin, a former shadow defence secretary (lead opposition critic for defense) and member of the Commons defence committee, said:
“He has been a good procurement minister and this is a disaster for the Ministry of Defence. He’s walking away from a terrible mess because the spending review leaves the MoD short of around GBP 1 billion over the next three years. The idea he is taking leave of absence and is going to return to the MoD at a later date is utterly ludicrous.”
The current shadow defence secretary Liam Fox expressed similar sentiments:
“The only minister with any credibility in the defence industry has now abandoned ship. This will cause concern throughout Britain’s vital defence industry.”
A letter from BAE CEO Mike Turner seems to confirm that impression, as does the experience level of his replacement. Baroness Taylor’s sole experience in the field is as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Fred Mulley, who was Secretary of State for Defence during 1976-77.
A revamp of the Defence Industrial Strategy was expected in December 2007, but there were reports that those funding shortfalls, and Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s July 2007 decision to disband the MoD Defence Export Sales Organisation without any consultation, had rankled Drayson. Other rumors floated about that Drayson’s relationship with Defence Secretary Des Browne was poor, and that senior civil servants in the MoD were strongly resisting change.
Perhaps all of the above is true. Perhaps not. The importance of his work does request a certain duty of office holders, and changes unfinished become extremely vulnerable against the inevitable forces of resistance and inertia in any large bureaucracy.
Then again, it’s rather clear that politics was not the driving force in Drayson’s life, just a part of it. And how often does a 47 year old car fanatic get a realistic shot at competing in LeMans? As former Minister Drayson put it:
“It’s about the physical and mental experience. When you’re in the car you can’t think about anything else, you have to just be in the moment. Then it’s just the physical experience of the sound, the forces on your body, everything moving fast around you.”
Chris Needell, Lord Drayson’s team manager at Barwell Motorsport, had a simpler take:
“He’s got balls…”
POSTSCRIPT: Drayson eventually returned to the UK MoD, announcing his decision via Twitter from the track at LeMans.
Additional Readings & Sources
- The Telegraph – Profile: Lord Drayson
- UK MoD (Nov 7/07) – Lord Drayson to be replaced by Baroness Ann Taylor
- UK MoD (Nov 7/07) – Baroness Taylor arrives at Ministry of Defence
- The Guardian (Nov 8/07) – ‘Dear prime minister, I’m off to race cars in America’
- The Guardian (Nov 8/07) – Resignation letter
- The Telegraph (Nov 8/07) – Lord Drayson quits to go motor racing
- Daily Mail (Nov 7/07) – Lord Drayson stands down from ministerial post to follow car-racing dream. Not everyone is appreciative.
- Defense News (Nov 7/07) – British Defense Procurement Minister Resigns
- BBC (Nov 7/07) – Minister quits to race in Le Mans