Thursday, 2 February 2012

Mandarins answer to no one

A recent survey suggested that our senior civil servants spend approximately a third of their time working on their Minister's agenda, a third on EU initiatives and a third on interests of their own devising. It explains in part why ministers, with a remit from voters, find it almost impossible to effect change during their period in office. Mandarins also know that ministers are 'here today, gone tomorrow', with few having sufficient experience to know how to manage their Departments of State. Thus when cuts are actually biting  across the armed forces, libraries, the NHS and the like, the civil service has remained virtually unchanged and intact. As for accountability, the convention, established by Sir Robert Armstrong in 1985, is that mandarins are accountable only to their ministers. Whilst insisting at the same time that they have higher duties than to political objectives, that they are guardians of the State, independent and impartial. It's a defence in depth, a series of fortifications that means in effect that senior civil servants are accountable to no one but themselves.

It's the mandarinate more than any other component of our polity that has built the 'Big State', that has established the poisonous message that only the bureaucratic Central State can be trusted to be fair and uncorrupt. When I suggest on here, for example, that Welfare should be local, the greatest countervailing argument in the comments is that people can't be trusted to be fair and ration Welfare with probity, that only the State can do so. And that's the message from the mandarinate - that we can't be trusted to manage ourselves, that we're flawed, incapable, inept and unskilled, and that they only know know what's best for everyone. I'm sorry, but it's bollocks. It's a crock. The mandarinate are the greatest single threat to our freedom and liberty, the EU's fifth column, the enemy within, with loyalties not to our sovereign realm but to some specious international ideology. They can't be trusted as far as I can spit. Give me a bent local Imam creaming off the Welfare budget to Lahore any day - at least it's honest theft.  

Gus O'Donnell's parting shot in defence of the mandarinate is revealed in the Telegraph this morning. Margaret Hoxha had the temerity, as Chairman of a Select Committee,  to put a senior mandarin to the question, and when she suspected him of lying, insisted the rest of his evidence was taken under oath. O'Donnell was incandescent with rage. Civil servants are immune from Parliamentary scrutiny as far as he is concerned. How could they govern the country if they were subject to direct democratic control?

But there's a new mood in Parliament. Reform is on the wind. MPs are feeling their breeches for the first time in many years. The mandarinate may have a shock coming.  


Budgie said...

You are exactly right about the mandarinate.

In some ways it is odd but it is the FCO that leads on the EU. The FCO is a tiny ministry. Its EU policy is regarded as a "supertanker" - ponderous, slow and almost undeflectable. The ethos is that the EU is sacrosanct, and public opinion is ignored (except where it conveniently agrees with the mandarinate).

The FCO (incredibly) prides itself on its negotiating 'expertise'. Yet at almost every meeting with "the colleagues" (their rather contemptuous term for the other members of the EU) the FCO merely gives away more power to the EU. The FCO claim they get a "better deal" for the UK on one issue by giving way on another, yet are totally unable to understand that every 'deal' with the EU results in a loss for the UK.

Only a really big crisis will open their eyes. But, despite the hopes of the more gullible eurosceptics, it won't be the collapse of the euro, still less the collapse of the EU, because neither is going to happen in the next couple of years.

Mr Ecks said...

The entire Senior civil service should be sacked without compensation and their pensions confiscated.

JohnM said...

Having received a very 'snotty' letter from the FCO recently, i shall finish my reply with the phrase:-

"You remain, Sir, my obedient servant,"

Anonymous said...

'Red' Margaret Hodge is not my favourite (!), but her treatment of the arrogant senior civil servant was quite delicious.

Anonymous said...

Listen to the lobbyists describe their access to civil servants in the HoC Political and Constitutional Reform Committee meeting today:

The committee considers the intruction of a statutory register for lobbyists. Notice how one lobbyist disses the idea of a register and favours legislation. It is precisely the latter route which we should seek to block. Legislation is the lobbyist's 2nd greatest friend.

Tom said...

A homoeopathy fan scoring one over a ManU fan? Oscar Wilde's unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible leaps to mind...

We have deep problems with our state apparatus - it is out of control - it is now the bloated nerveless tail wagging the stupid (brainless) dog.

Tom said...

I should add that the brainless dog has noticed something annoying that follows it all the time and has bitten it.

Greg Tingey said...

I'm reminded of the best post-war PM we never had, Roy Jenkins.

When Home Secretary, he ordered the papers on the Rillington Place murders.
After re-reading, he decided the obvious, namely that T. Evans was innocent, and had been murdered by the state, and deserved a posthumous pardon.
Made an order for the papers to be prepared, so that he could sign and forward to HM.
A month later ... nothing.
He asked for the papers again - more foot-dragging, and excuses about the Civil Sevice/Administration being seen to be wrong.
He re-ordered the papers.
A week later - more excuses.
Jenkins lost his rag. (I'm very glad to say)
Effectively: "You will have those papers on my dsk TOMORROW" ...
"oh, but Minister..."
"If they are not on my desk tomorrow, I will order your instant dismissal, without pension!"
That did it, but what a struggle ....

Anonymous said...

The YES PRIME MINISTER series was a humorous and yet the most revealing of the officious mandarinate that is now deeply embedded in the woodwork.

All kudos to Margaret Hodge for bringing this so-called public servant to heel. If only MPs could get it into their heads that they have been bestowed absolute powers by the people of the UK, they would bring about the independence of the UK. Instead they have exchanged the thrill absolute power for a mess of pottage.

Edward Spalton said...

I forwarded this article to a long-serving parliamentarian. He told me that he head heard Sir Robert Armstrong say in an after dinner speech that parliament was "an obstacle" to government.

It's not exactly been much of a protection against the overweaning bureaucracy - but it's all we've got.
It won't be much use until it throws off the EU but we should give encouragement to independently minded MPs.