A new book penned by Tony Blair’s former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has revealed the department was almost named something very inappropriate during the Labour PM’s time in Downing Street.
Labour MP Alan Johnson revealed an extract from his upcoming autobiography to the Mail On Sunday which said Blair almost renamed the ministry the “Department of Productivity, Energy, Industry And Science”.
And, when shortened to an acronym as many Whitehall ministries are, that spells out Penis.
Johnson was informed of the planned name change in a call with Blair the day after the 2005 election, and was told his private secretary would tell him when the moniker was decided.
I had a pen and paper ready when he called as promised: ‘It’s the Department of Productivity…’ I grimaced as I recorded a capital ‘P’ on my notepad. It was an ugly word to include in a departmental name. ‘… Energy (En), Industry (I) and Science (S).’ Alan Johnson, Mail On Sunday
Johnson went on to detail the explicit moment when he confronted the prime minister about his decision, which sounds like one of the most awkward occurrences ever to grace 10 Downing Street.
Four days later I met the Prime Minister on the rose-garden terrace at No 10, surrounded by a battalion of advisers in wicker chairs. We chatted about the challenges I faced. ‘Anything else?’ Tony asked as he prepared to call it a day. ‘Yes, there was one other thing,’ I said boldly. ‘Why has the name of my department been changed to Penis?’ There was silence. Alan Johnson, Mail On Sunday
When the red-faced PM admitted his mistake, he asked his team if it was too late to change it back.
“I informed him that the old sign had been removed but the new one hadn’t yet been erected,” Johnson wrote. “The absence of a Penis erection was the cause of great merriment.”
He then went on to discuss how he was haunted by unfortunate acronyms throughout his time in Cabinet, going from his position as the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning (HELL) to heading up the Sexual Health Advisory Group (SHAG), the latter of which luckily went the same way as the Department for PEnIS.