Jonathan Powell (Labour adviser)

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Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Powell and Paul Rios.jpg
Jonathan Powell (right)
Downing Street Chief of Staff
In office
2 May 1997 – 27 June 2007
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byTom Scholar
Personal details
Born (1956-08-14) 14 August 1956 (age 62)
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Sarah Helm
Alma materUniversity College, Oxford
University of Pennsylvania

Jonathan Nicholas Powell (born 14 August 1956) is a British diplomat who served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff, under British prime minister Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007. He was the only senior adviser to last the whole period of Blair's leadership.[1] During this period Powell was also the chief British negotiator on Northern Ireland.

In 2007, Powell joined Morgan Stanley as a full-time senior managing director of its investment banking division.[2]

He runs the charity Inter Mediate which works on armed conflicts around the world. In 2014, David Cameron appointed Powell to be the UK's special envoy to Libya.[3]

Early life[edit]

Powell is the son of Air Vice-Marshal John Frederick Powell. He has three brothers: Charles, who was foreign policy advisor to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; Chris, a former advertiser; and Roderick. Although Powell pronounces the family name in the conventional manner (to rhyme with 'towel'), Charles pronounces it as 'pole'.

Powell was educated at the Cathedral Choir School, Canterbury, and the King's School, Canterbury. He read history and gained a 2.1[4] at University College, Oxford[5] and the University of Pennsylvania. He then worked for the BBC as a journalist and Granada TV before joining the Foreign Office in 1979.[6][7]

Diplomatic career[edit]

Powell joined the FCO in 1979 and was posted as Third Secretary, later Second Secretary, to Lisbon in 1981. He was subsequently posted to UKDEL CDE Stockholm in 1986 and to UKDEL CSCE Vienna in September 1986.[8] In November 2010, Powell wrote an article for The Guardian that was critical of the publication by WikiLeaks of the contents of US diplomatic cables. Powell argued, "It is very difficult to conduct diplomacy effectively when your confidential deliberations are made public in this way. Mutual trust is the basis of such relations and once that trust is breached, candid conversations are less likely. It is like having a conversation in the pub with your best mate about problems with your girlfriend and then finding the content, possibly with a bit of spin added, posted on the internet. You won't be having that conversation again any time soon."[9]

Powell was desk officer for the negotiations on giving Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1983–85, and for the Two Plus Four talks on German unification from 1989-90. Powell was posted to the British Embassy in Washington in 1991 and attached himself to Bill Clinton's Presidential campaign as an observer. He later introduced Tony Blair to Bill Clinton and his team after the election.[10]

Downing Street Chief of Staff[edit]

Shortly after his election as Leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair asked Powell to become his Chief of Staff. Powell initially declined the offer, although he later left the diplomatic service in 1995 to become the Chief of Staff to the Opposition Leader.[6] After Labour's election victory in 1997, Powell was given the new official role of Downing Street Chief of Staff, a new position with the power to issue orders to civil servants, which was unprecedented for a political appointee.[6]

In the early years of the Blair Government, one of Powell's most crucial jobs was his role in the Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement. In March 2008, Powell called for tactics used successfully in Northern Ireland to be applied to the War on Terrorism. He suggested that western governments hold talks with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, just as the British government negotiated with the Provisional IRA in order to bring about a peace deal in Northern Ireland. His suggestion was publicly rejected by the British Foreign Office.[11] His book Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland details the negotiations which finally led to the agreement which brought back power-sharing devolved government to Northern Ireland.

Powell continued to be both a key right-hand man for Blair throughout his time in office, as well as a trusted advisor on a wide range of policy issues. He was described by The Guardian as being "at the heart of all his (Blair's) key foreign policy initiatives."[12] It is believed he was questioned twice by police, the second time under caution, during the investigation into the Cash for Honours affair.[13] While many in Blair's "kitchen cabinet" – including Alastair Campbell – departed before Blair's resignation, Powell remained in Downing Street until June 2007.

In February 2012 Peter Oborne, a The Daily Telegraph journalist, criticised Powell for divulging sensitive information about the activities of MI6 in Russia. He told a BBC documentary, Putin, Russia and the West, how MI6 had in 2006 used a "fake rock filled with surveillance devices as a means of communication with their agents in Moscow". Oborne described this as a "propaganda gift for Vladimir Putin", as it soon after featured heavily in a programme screened on prime-time Russian state TV. The footage was used to attack opponents of Putin who at the time, in 2006, had doubted Kremlin reports of MI6's activity in Russia. In the view of Oborne, "Powell’s indiscretion was used to make a full-frontal attack on some of the most respected independent critics of the regime" and Powell had become a "useful idiot" for Putin.[14]

Post Downing Street[edit]

Powell was a banker at Morgan Stanley from 2008-9. In 2011 he founded the charity Inter Mediate with Martin Griffiths[15] to work on armed conflicts around the world. Since 2013 he has also been a member of the Board of Save the Children International.[16]

In May 2014 British prime minister David Cameron appointed Powell as the UK special envoy to Libya to promote dialogue between rival factions in the country.[17]

In March 2017 he was appointed Honorary Professor in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen's University Belfast.[18]


Powell's role as Downing Street Chief of Staff came under close scrutiny during the Hutton Inquiry, held following the death of David Kelly in 2003. Powell gave evidence to the inquiry on 18 August, and described several crucial meetings he had attended at which Kelly had been discussed before his name appeared in the media. An email sent by Powell to the JIC chairman John Scarlett in September 2002 was also highlighted, as it appeared to suggest that a dossier on the threat posed by Iraq should be toughened.[19] Many commentators criticised the style of government described by Powell as too informal, some dubbing it "sofa government", as many meetings were held in relaxed surroundings without proper notes being taken. The subsequent and separate Butler Report also emphasised these criticisms.[citation needed] Both the Hutton and Butler reports indicated Powell was very close to Blair.[citation needed]

On 18 January 2010 Powell gave evidence to the Iraq Inquiry.[20]

Personal life[edit]

Powell has four children: two daughters with his partner, Sarah Helm, and two sons from a previous marriage.[6]

Books by Powell[edit]

  • Great Hatred, Little Room: Making Peace in Northern Ireland, The Bodley Head, 2008. ISBN 1-84792-032-2.
  • The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World, The Bodley Head, 2010. ISBN 1-84792-122-1.
  • Talking to Terrorists: How to End Armed Conflicts, The Bodley Head, 2014, ISBN 9781847922298; published in the United States with the title Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating Is the Only Way to Peace, Palgrave Macmillan, 2015, ISBN 9781250069887.
  • The Public Sector: Managing the Unmanageable, Kogan Page, 2013. ISBN 978-0-7494-6777-7. (Contributor).[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jonathan Powell". Global Political Strategies. Archived from the original on 2013-06-15. Retrieved 2012-10-24.
  2. ^ "Former Blair Aide Joins Top Bank". BBC. 2007-12-07. Retrieved 2007-12-07.
  3. ^ Black, Ian; editor, Middle East (2014-05-23). "David Cameron appoints Jonathan Powell as official envoy to Libya". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2016-11-09.
  4. ^ Rentoul, John (2003-09-26). "Jonathan Powell: Driven, devoted and discreet: is this the last true Blairite?". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
  5. ^ Univ alumni, Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  6. ^ a b c d "Profile: Jonathan Powell". BBC. 2004-07-14. Retrieved 2007-12-07.
  7. ^ Powell, Jonathan (17 March 2008). "A moment in history: sitting down to talk with Adams and McGuinness" – via The Guardian.
  8. ^ The Diplomatic Service List 1989 (page 278), HMSO, ISBN 0-11-591707-1.
  9. ^ Powell, Jonathan, US embassy cables: Leaks happen. But on this industrial scale, whose interests are served?, The Guardian, 30 November 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  10. ^ Powell, Jonathan, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 30 September 2013. Retrieved 2013-11-07., United Against Nuclear Iran
  11. ^ Ormsby, Avril (2008-03-15). "Powell says government "should talk to al Qaeda"". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  12. ^ Powell, Jonathan (2007-11-18). "Why the West should not fear to intervene". London: Observer. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  13. ^ "Who's who: Cash for honours row". BBC. 2007-07-20. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  14. ^ The BBC’s distortion of the truth helps Putin suppress his critics, Telegraph, retrieved 2/2/2012
  15. ^ "Jonathan Powell". Inter Mediate. London. Retrieved 2013-10-24.
  16. ^ "Annual Review 2013" (PDF). Retrieved 7 October 2014.
  17. ^ "David Cameron appoints former Blair aide as special envoy to Libya". Financial Times. 2014-05-22. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
  18. ^ "News and Events - Jonathan Powell Appointment - Queen's University Belfast".
  19. ^ Jeffery, Simon (2003-08-22). "Jonathan Powell". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  20. ^ "Iraq inquiry: No deal in blood, says Jonathan Powell". BBC News. BBC. 18 January 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2010.
  21. ^ Stevenson, Alexander (2013). The Public Sector: Managing The Unmanageable. ISBN 978-0-7494-6777-7.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Office Created
Downing Street Chief of Staff
Succeeded by
Tom Scholar