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Thursday, 02 August 2012


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Be careful what you wish for. I take your points about declining educational standards and recalcitrance, but the other issue is the erosion of the knowledge-base. Civil servants might not be liked because they actually know something about the territory upon which they have built their careers. If they are removed by politicians, then who is going to tell those politicians the facts of life? Cautious experts just about have the edge over ignorant zealots, on the grounds that they are less likely to turn over the whole system.

In the RAF we used to say that up to Wing Commander you were OK. When you were promoted to Group Captain, they removed your brain. Whitehall is like that; its full of people who know what to do but it's run by people who have had their brains removed. If you shot the top layer you could promote a lot of people who know what to do. And encourage them to do it, in case the firing squad is still around.

I take your point, 'W', and I do not suppose for an instant that it would be a panacea but at least we can vote the rascals out every five years but we can't get rid of Sir Humphrey.

Dare I guess your rank, Wing Commander?!

You might guess - but you'd be wrong!

Ah well, no doubt it was higher than corporal which is as far I managed to get - in 9 years!

One might ask why the calibre of top civil servants has fallen (if it has). Given the changes in Whitehall over the past 30 years I would certainly not want to bother with it (and I'm a dumb-ass)- go elsewhere young man. Would you want to take orders from some snotty-nosed meeja type dragged off the street by what passes for a 'Minister'?

I doubt even Northcote-Trevelyan could sort the current mess. My own preference is to go over to the French Enarch system - Ministers play at corruption and sex and politics all day and leave the real work to professionals.

Well, Roger, it's not just their general uselessness I am really complaining about but the 'fact', as reported in some of the prints, that they actively promote their own agendas. The DoE is a prize example, I believe.

I worked in Whitehall (M0D) for seven years. I only met one sec of state - a Tory - and he was a plonker of the first degree. The problem with the Civil Service is an overwhelming sense of lethargy. There is little or no leadership. And whose fault is that? Ministers and their advisors come and go - the leadership that fails is that of the senior civil servants. Yes Minister was entirely accurate in its depictions of Whitehall. Nothing much will change till the ones at the top are held responsible for their actions. If you can't shoot them - sack them with no pensions.

Well, 'Envelope', with your inside experience please tell us, would this idea of politicians bringing in their hand-picked advisors with executive powers which would over-ride the civil servants, be an improvement? Not, I hasten to add, that this or that policy would be better or worse, but that at least a policy would be rammed through and the final judgment on it left to us every five years.

Which is why I suggest the Enarch system is better - of course they will promote their own agenda but having been trained rigourously in public administration rather than Pindaric Odes their agenda might be worth something. As for lethargy, again a cohort of professionals should soon eject those seen as over-idle - although to be honest there is a lot to be said for doing nothing governmentally speaking. Finally, the Frogs have something we don't, a liking for throwing cobble stones and overturning government cars when they get upset - their govt is slightly scared of the populace, our lot don't give a s**t.

The only sort of 'civil service' about which I have some detailed knowledge is the old German General Staff. There is no doubt in my mind that as a collegiate body they were the epitome of military excellence. And yet . . . and yet . . . they were still beaten by the doltish old war horses who ran our army, er, with a little help from our friends, of course.

I was just a military desk officer in the DIS, but I had plenty of opportunity to observe the Civil Service. I thought they were just a bunch of unspecialised amateurs. You might improve matters by bringing in outsiders. But who are these outsiders? People like Call Me Dave?

Alas, he hasn't an idea in his entire body which is probably why he will fail to win the next election - assuming he is still leading the party then! But Gove at Education came in with a well-worked out agenda and has had to struggle against the deliberate obstructionism of his civil servants. As I said above, some of the ideas politicians, with the aid of their advisors, might push through will be nigh on catastrophic but at least we, the electors, can provide a judgment. At the moment, no-one can be sure if Gove's ideas are sound because he has only managed to implement part of them.

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