Stefan Stern on the ‘rumblings’ in the Civil Service:
All is not well in the Civil Service. Ministers are unhappy. Engine trouble is afflicting the “Rolls-Royce machine”.
I really don’t think what we have now can be said to be a ‘Rolls Royce’ machine. In fact, it’s more like a Skoda.
Even the fabled independence and impartiality is no longer a given:
Yesterday, there was new speculation over an apparent desire among senior civil servants to form closer links with Labour before the next election.
But just why would they want to do that? After all, although Stefan phrases this as a problem for the coalition, it’s far from their problem when you look at the beginning of the rift:
Lord Butler’s report into the government’s use of intelligence in the run-up to the war, published in July 2004, is worth reading with this thought in mind. Butler had been Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service under Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Blair. No one knew better how government should function. In finely polished “mandarin”, his words hit home.
He refers to the “frequent but unscripted occasions when the Prime Minister, foreign secretary and defence secretary briefed the Cabinet orally”. Note “unscripted”: civil servants should have helped with the scripts. “Excellent quality papers were written by ofﬁcials, but these were not discussed in Cabinet or in cabinet committee. Without papers circulated in advance, it remains possible, but is obviously much more difﬁcult, for members of the Cabinet outside the small circle directly involved to bring their political judgement and experience to bear on the major decisions for which the Cabinet as a whole must carry responsibility.”
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but this was all under a Labour government, not under the coalition, right?
And yet…the civil servants are supposedly seeking ‘closer ties’ to that Labour Party?
Is it me, or..?
The current Government recently published a White Paper proposing further reform, in particular trying to introduce greater accountability for civil servants in their relationships with ministers. But something more fundamental needs to be done: a complete reappraisal, from first principles, of the relationship between ministers of the crown and the independent Civil Service, which recognises the different and conflicting pressures both are under.
Or you could maybe breathe a sigh of relief that Blair’s regime was booted out, and wait to see if this one proves better, or worse, or even just different?