Politicisation of the Civil Service

Richard North has commented on David Cameron’s response to the question posed at last Wednesday’s PMQs by Owen Paterson.

I totally agree with the views expressed by Richard North; and would add the following:

1. Civil Servants are Crown employees and not employees of Parliament, the Prime Minister, or politicians generally – and thus should and must remain neutral in any matters affecting our nation.

2. I would refer readers to a speech given on 16 October 2014 at Tsinghua University, Beijing by Martin Donnelly, the Permanent Secretary of Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS); one entitled: Positive Neutrality and Trust – the policy role of a permanent civil service. From this speech:

To work effectively and achieve and maintain that mutual trust, we need to be explicit about the differences between a politician and a policy civil servant and how the latter should behave. There are three broad themes: 

Firstly, not to do for one Minister what would not be done for another of a different party. If that is the baseline for impartiality, then it must work for government ministers on both sides of the In/Out argument.

Secondly, to err on the side of disclosure to Ministers of everything that might take place. This must include challenging optimism bias, without allowing that challenge to become an excuse for inaction. If that is also another baseline for impartiality, then it must work for government ministers on both sides of the In/Out argument.

There is of course another aspect to the subversion of the Civil Service and that is the appointment of Spads by Ministers, who are then classified as Civil Servants. If Civil Servants are employees of the Crown then how can they be appointed by politicians who are not Civil Servants.

What Cameron has done by his decision is to undermine the impartiality of the Civil Service, something Martin Donnelly argued was of importance.

From a previous article I repeat:

I have previously quoted the words of John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton, KCVO: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men. So just how long must we allow ‘great men’ to always be ‘bad men’; and just how long do we allow those with unfettered power to be corrupted – and allow them so to continue?

Not that I am saying Cameron, or any of our current politicians, is/are ‘great men’ – they all only tell you what they want you to hear and believe, whether what they say is truthful or not.

Therein lies a great deficit in our current system of representative democracy – and those who could bring about change appear unwilling to make the effort so to do!


3 thoughts on “Politicisation of the Civil Service

  1. When you complain about what Cameron, “has done by his decision is to undermine the impartiality of the Civil Service” you are right. However, we should take this a little further. Cameron is simply one of many in government who did just this. Perhaps to be correct we should say he intensified the undermining of impartiality. And he did so knowing that all public servants and public service organisations are more than happy with this process. The BBC, police NHS and more always present themselves as independent but are not.

    1. The way I see it is an awful lot of civil service departments are eu centric He hasn’t done anything to undermine impartiality, he’s just allowed them to remain biased.
      Departments have been created, empires have been built, large remuneration packages secured. Comfy chairs occupied. Although as the term “civil servants” is used, what they actually are is self preservationists. They will go to great lengths to quote, chapter and verse, with the utmost complexity, to tell the government why things can’t be done.

      1. We don’t have any ministers who are on top of their brief, they aren’t installed for their knowledge but for their potential compliance. The net result is they almost always defer to the inferred wisdom of the relevant of the incumbent civil servant AKA permanent secretary.

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