Sunday, June 17, 2007

Can the civil service be trusted by an incoming government?

Whilst writing my last entry, a thought crossed my mind. If the upper echelons of the civil service have become politicised, can an incoming government really trust it to work effectively on a new political programme?

I must admit that the secret of good administration is that it must be able to adapt to changes in the political weather, as the methodology of a Conservative administration will differ greatly from that of a Labour or, at some future point perhaps, Liberal Democrat administration. And that brings me back to my point about empathy...

However, recent years have seen the rise of the Special Adviser, or SpAd, as Guido Fawkes refers to them. He has been enthusiastic in his pursuit of instances whereby SpAd's have broken the guidance restricted their political activities and I have to accept that the frequency of such malpractice is a nightmare for supporters of a non-partisan civil service.

Their presence amongst the upper echelons of government, like targets, distorts the behaviour of those around them. And so, the question must be asked. If this Labour government falls at the next General Election, or a subsequent one, can a new incoming administration rely on the civil service to put their programme into effect, or will a 'night of the long knives' scenario come into play?

In the United States, many high-level administrative posts are filled on the basis of rewarding supporters and fundraisers, leading to a huge turnover at the head of the bureaucracy after a change of Party in the White House (and not only then, even after a President is re-elected, there is often significant personnel turnover). You then get a period whereby people are mastering their new briefs, and positive activity is almost suspended.

I hope that such a state never reaches these shores, and that the non-partisan nature of our civil service can be preserved. Sadly, Labour's control freak tendency have done more to damage this essential facet of our government system than anything else, be it low pay, loss of respect or the general tendency of political parties of all stripes to use the civil service as a convenient whipping boy. And one day, all of us will regret it...

No comments: