Monday, 14 January 2013

No, Prime Minister

The welcome re-run on Dave of the original TV series Yes Prime Minister featuring Paul Eddington and Nigel Hawthorne still retains a degree of essential truth; update the manners and the sets with The Thick of It and I think you have a fair simulacrum of the relationship between mandarins and ministers. 

Back in 2010 the incoming government's potential difficulties with the top ranks of the civil service were highlighted; mandarins, new ministers were told, spent a third of their time and departmental resources working for Europe, a third pursuing their own agenda and only a third on the government's manifesto. It should be added that nowadays many of them are also interested in more than the eventual (mostly undeserved) KCMG, KCB or KBE that comes with the rations, a modest pension and a quiet retirement; either, like Hayden Phillips or Christopher Kelly, they want to play at politics themselves, or they're after a well rewarded seat on the board of a private sector firm where they can sell the privileged experience bought at public expense. 

Northcote-Trevelyan defined the duty of the mandarins thus:
It may safely be asserted that, as matters now stand, the Government of the country could not be carried on without the aid of an efficient body of permanent officers, occupying a position duly subordinate to that of the Ministers who are directly responsible to the Crown and to Parliament, yet possessing sufficient independence, character, ability and experience to be able to advise, assist and, to some extent, influence those who are from time to time set over them.
And so Northcote-Trevelyan put in place a system to recruit Britain's best and brightest, a pure meritocracy, to mandarin-grade posts. The minister with a 2:2 in media studies from Hull would thereby have on hand a Sir Humphrey with an Oxford double first and the business of government would thereby be enhanced. Or it would be if the mandarin-grade staff remained truly impartial. And if they once were, they've ceased to be so. A recruitment system geared at employing 'people like us' together with a forced social-democratic system of equalities of outcome, and the operation of sinister 'clubs' such as Common Purpose, have produced a mandarinate with a homogeneity of outlook, convinced in their righteousness, who feel quite justified in openly challenging the wishes of ministers. 

Committed to a big, central State and to Whitehall's control over all the levers of governance, they have robbed local government of independence, stifled democracy, fatally wounded the parties and would seek (Phillips and Kelly) to establish permanent publically funded 'parties of State'  to provide the illusion of democracy whilst they govern. 

The Times (£) is openly reporting the frustration of ministers in named departments. The solution being mooted is replacing the permanent mandarins with temporary political appointees. 

I beg to differ. The real solution is to abolish entire Whitehall departments and to devolve their functions back where they belong; a Whitehall with just a Treasury, a Foreign Office, a Defence Ministry and a Maritime and Air Transport Department would probably suit. The problem isn't the mandarins as such; it's the sort of State they believe in that's at the root of all our problems.

14 comments:

G. Tingey said...

Beg to disagree, in part, at any rate ...
Look at the fiasco over at DafT over "west coast" & the others over IEP (Twice the ocst it needs to be, no-one wants it, made in Japan, etc, etc ad nauseam.
Troubke is, there ARE people there who know their job [I know one] but, although high up the pile, they are not at the top, & never will be.
Ms Mingay @ the same department was HIRED IN FOR HER EXPERTISE ... & was then crapped on by the top mandarins.
Something is horribly worng, but how to fix it?

The one who should be sacked there is Rutnam - but he won't be ......

Travellin' personage said...

We might need to add an immigration control dept to your list too (with real tight bastards in charge!).

Blue Eyes said...

I doubt the mandarins were ever perfect, but we used to have more of a coherent sense of "public service" than we do now.

I thought it was Heaf and Fatcher who got rid of local government, though. They certainly pushed the required legislation through...

Blue Eyes said...

I doubt the mandarins were ever perfect, but we used to have more of a coherent sense of "public service" than we do now.

I thought it was Heaf and Fatcher who got rid of local government, though. They certainly pushed the required legislation through...

xmfclick said...

Good analysis. But what about the Euro-mandarins? We never hear about them, but I somehow doubt they are any less of a self-selecting oligarchy. An unaccountable Eurocracy developing laws for an unaccountable Commission to send to a toothless Parliament to be rubber-stamped.

DeeDee99 said...

"A recruitment system geared at employing 'people like us'

As a Civil Servant (junior) I beg to differ. The system isn't geared at employing people LIKE us. It is geared at employing people who THINK like us. There is a difference.

Civil Service recruitment is geared towards "equlity of employment." What that means in practice is that if you are a member of any minority you get 'extra points.'

If you attend the right training courses and think in the appropriate manner, you get 'extra points.'

If you can take a relatively simple process - bureaucratise it out of all proportion and at the same time build an empire to administer it, you get extra points.

The civil service is obsessed with employing female, black, disabled, gay or transgender people in senior positions - so it can demonstrate equality.

Whether those female, black, disabled, gay, transgender people can actually do the job is of secondary importance.

(I am female, but I don't qualify under the other categories).

Nick Drew said...

a large part of the rot started under Thatcher when she concluded the Civil Service was a nay-saying block on what she wanted to do

there is more than one way of elaborating that, but the effect is clear: she insisted they used external consultants to do the analyses that once the Rolls-Royce Brains would have confidently done themselves

needless to say the consultants are always yea-sayers, which is as bad as the problem it was designed to address

25 years on, and the Civil Service has had the confidence beaten out of it: petrified of being sidelined as nay-sayers, they have developed a role as managers of a corrupt process whereby ministers (1) are lobbied by vested interests; (2) engage consultants to *ahem* ratify the case made by the lobbyists; (3) instruct Civil Servants to draw up legislation / Orders in Council / ministerial decrees etc

all the Civil Servants care about is getting the legislation 'correctly' drafted

despite 'resolute' coalition intentions to slash the budgets for consultants, I'm willing to bet they have barely declined at all since 2010

whatever you think of Civil Servants, there is no merit in getting consultants to confirm the assertions of lobbyists - any more than buying a second copy of the newspaper to confirm that what the first said is true

Budgie said...

Raedwald, spot on. The only way to cut government spending is to cut the amount government does by chopping out departments.

ex-uncivil servant (quite senior too) said...

Did any senior manager ever get told/taught anything by a consultant he did not already know? The only difference being that the manager had it all in his head anyway, while the consultants had it all written down in glossy folders.

Anonymous said...

We still haven't got the coalition government that was voted in. We still have the overly large remnants of ZanuLabour who hired these people based upon centralist, statist doctrines and they haven't left yet. So we still have a Labour government in effect. I guess the only way to change this is to kick out the mandarins at the change of government and / or make then re-apply for their jobs. Oh, and there are way too many of them anyway; just as R said.

Coney Island

Tom said...

The supremacy of the executive is, to my mind an unequivocally direct result of the present utter lack of accountability in public service.

The sanctions for misbehaviour and repeated failure have been removed so that the donkeys live in a world full of carrots.

A significant proportion of the "middle" and "senior" managers are serially incompetent across all departments and they add insult to injury by arbitrary and damaging decision taking which is informed by their own deep ignorance of the task to hand and a sense of their own omnipotence. Couple this to a positive lust for making up "rules" , intrigue and a carnival of mendacious jiggery pokery and it's abundantly clear why they resist the political levers of power...

It's long past time that our public servants were called to account and some P45s were handed out - together with statutory redundancy payments.

We have been told that The Environment Agency aren't bound by High Court Orders and will not fulfill a Freedom of Information request "because the information could be used in criminal prosecutions against Environment Agency officials" - above the law? = go figure.

Our public servants are out of control and the public service ecosystem is badly in need of a cull or some tertiary predators - preferably both.

Curious?

Round 1

Update

Mr Ecks said...

All 4000 members of the Senior civil service should be sacked without compensation and their pensions confiscated ie, they get NOTHING.Same thing for the next 50000 highest paid managers across all departments. Next, a 100 year moritarium on new laws of any kind followed by the striking down of 99.5 % of all existing law. That would be a small but flying start.

Tom said...

Mr Ecks

The Reagan approach to high falut'in state employees gets my vote.

AFAIK when he arrived in the Oval Office - Ronnie asked for a list of all Federal employees paid more than POTUS and adjusted all their wages to $1 less than his.

We've got - what is it? 3500++ overpaid tosspots making our lives misery - and that's just the salaried ones = not including the early retirees back as consultants...

Urine extraction on a colossal scale.

Anonymous said...

Well look at North Mill AVONCLIFF and you will see why they all need to go! power crazy fools.