“Governing as a permanent form of campaigning: why the civil service is in mortal danger”

” … This new permanent campaign style, encouraged by the crisis over Brexit and the ensuing clash between representative and direct democracy, means the structure of the civil service in Britain is being recast by three major shifts. The first is the growth of politically appointed advisers. All governments since the 1990s have sought to pack Whitehall with loyal apparatchiks. Their numbers have now reached over 90. Special advisers adept at handling an often hostile media are a particularly valuable commodity, but government has been contaminated by the rise of the spin machine and permanent campaign. Political aides help to enforce the political will of ministers, overcoming the bureaucratic inertia allegedly imposed by the Whitehall machine. Advisers are free to attack the monopoly over policy-making once coveted by the civil service, to the detriment of due process.

The second shift is the personalisation of civil service appointments with ministers increasingly hand-picking their favourite officials for the top jobs. Secretaries of state use back-channels to veto the appointment of civil servants to key posts who they believe are not ‘one of us’. Mandarins who seek promotion are encouraged to fulfil the immediate wishes of their political masters. The higher turnover of permanent secretaries leads to instability in Whitehall departments. The independence of the civil service has been repeatedly undermined.

The third shift is the emergence of a bureaucracy that is becoming ‘promiscuously partisan’, unwilling to speak truth to power. Civil servants are more likely than ever to be dragged into defending government policy. For an official to dissent from the expressed views of their minister is to commit career suicide. Yet the ability of officials to say no is a vital ingredient in the ‘governing marriage’ between ministers and civil servants. …”

Governing as a permanent form of campaigning: why the civil service is in mortal danger