Article 22

The Bureaucracies 

In a 29/8/20 article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “Whitehall mandarins have lost sight of what it means to be politically neutral”, Charles Moore recalls that ‘it is a basic doctrine of our system of government that ministers decide, and therefore account to Parliament for their decisions’; that ‘it follows that they – not civil servants or other advisers – take credit for success and the blame for failure’; that ‘in cases of iniquity or irredeemable systemic cock-up, they should resign’; and that any other system would evade the direct relationship that must exist between the voters and those who win the general election and then form a government’. He goes on to say with respect to the ‘confusion over the Covid-affected A-level and GCSE results, the case for Mr. Williamson’s resignation is marginal rather than open and shut’; and that ‘he wants to look at the extent to which ‘the structure and practice of the public service undermine its reality’. Thus, he notes that ‘in the case of this summer’s exams the body charged with making the decisions was not Mr. Williamson’s department, but Ofqual’; that ‘Ofqual is an “independent” regulator, a “non-ministerial government department”; that ‘it is supposed to be free from political control and thus to maintain educational standards’; and that ‘the famous algorithm was its and not Mr. Williamson’s’; that ‘he did not have the right to inspect it in detail’;  but that ‘whenever things get difficult, the government comes under pressure to intervene and the non-ministerial departments somehow vanish’. 

Charles Moore then asks ‘how often during the exams row did you find Sally Collier, Ofqual’s now departing chief executive, publicly defending what her organisation had done?’ He answers his question by saying that ‘she neither made the case for her policy, nor explained her errors’. He then states that ‘NHS England is the most glaring example of swerved responsibility’ that it ‘employs 1.2 million people making it the largest public-sector employer in Europe’; that ‘its chief executive Sir Simon Stevens is responsible for more than £120billion of annual spending; that ‘he has been almost invisible to the public since Covid-19 hit the fan’; that ‘we have little idea of whether he is right or wrong’; but that we have to listen to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, instead; that ‘these arms-length bodies become closed little worlds, invested with great power, hard to hold to account, and fiercely unwilling to take blame’.  As to government departments, Charles Moore states that ‘in theory, the chain of command is clear’; that ‘Ministers answer to Parliament for their departments and protect them from attack’; that, in return, civil servants make sure that what ministers want, gets done’; that ‘the practice, however, now departs very markedly from the theory’; that ‘what is now considered normal practice is that defenders of officials often say “Remember they can’t answer back”. Nonetheless Charles Moore states that ‘nowadays they can’, that senior officials appear before parliamentary committees, as if they had an independent existence’; that ‘they make lots of public speeches’; that ‘last month, Jonathon Slater, the permanent secretary at the Department of Education, spoke at the Institute for Government where he declared that “I feel at my best when I genuinely feel accountable for delivering something”. If so, Charles Moore asks, ‘would he like to take some responsibility for the exams fiasco?’

Charles Moore then states that ‘it is increasingly common for a department to declare its own view on an issue which goes beyond government policy and sometimes even contradicts it’; that ‘recently the Tory peer Emma Nicholson, alerted by complaints from many parents, began to protest to the Department of Education about its new materials for Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) which become compulsory next month’; that ‘some of these “fact sheets” promoted by lobby groups with the help of departmental money, advise schools that they must, in the interests of transgender rights, institute mixed-sex lavatories, breast binders, padded trousers, puberty-blockers, cross-hormones and surgery all of which are advocated in the Trans Inclusion Toolkit’; that ‘another document for schools – an “ inclusive package for ALL young people” – circulated by an LGBT organisation, the Proud Trust, and backed with money from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, introduces the “Dice Game” in which each face of each die is a word (or words) such as “penis”, “anus”, “hands and fingers”; that “players are invited, having rolled the dice, to think of exciting things to do with the combination chance has thrown up’; that ‘none of the above is in the legislation though the pressure-group documents often suggest that it is’; that  ‘Mr Slater, however, is an enthusiast for trans rights and tweets as the Civil Service’s “LGB&TI Champion”; and that ‘during Covid he has tweeted only once (as far as Charles Moore is aware) about the urgent matter of exams, preferring subjects such as Ramadan, Pride Month, and Windrush Day’.

Charles Moore then records that ‘the most striking recent example of departments going beyond their impartial remit is their reaction to Black Lives Matter, following the killing of George Floyd’ that in this connection, ‘several permanent secretaries including Mr Slater at Education and Sir Steven Lovegrove at Defence put out messages against “whiteness” or giving the hash tag for Black Lives Matter’ that ‘since then Mr Slater’s concern for what he calls “tackling the whiteness of senior Whitehall” has been fulfilled (I would say addressed) by his being retired early on ministerial insistence’; that ‘the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, Sir Richard Heaton has been moved towards the door’; that ‘in June, he wrote’, on behalf of his department: “we must be clear in the workplace that racism and inequality are enemies we must keep fighting… Its why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important’. And that ‘it’s not enough to be passively anti-racist; we must take a stand and we must take action”. In response Charles Moore says ‘the point is not that racism does not matter, but that definitions and remedies differ dramatically’; that ‘many mandarins have failed to recognise – as they failed with Brexit – that other views legitimately exist’; that ‘they appear not to understand that their views, publicly expressed, undermine the neutrality of public service’. He asks, ‘what due diligence has been applied to the Black Lives Matter organisation?’ He responds to his question by saying  that ‘while the title must be right, it does not follow that taxpayers’ money should be spent in its cause’; that ‘the mandarins are allowing HR departments to be used as a battering ram for political activism’s undermining of the Government’s right to make policy’; that ‘these trends suggest that the present government is right to try to recall the public service to its chief duty which is to stop striking attitudes and to make policy work’; and that ‘the coming reorganisation of the Cabinet Office, includes the search for a new Cabinet Secretary (now selected)  and a new head of the Foreign Office’; and that ‘these are quiet but firm moves against these woke Sir Humphreys’.     

Again, while I am grateful to Charles Moore for his timely analysis, I must say again that the rectifications he calls for will not occur through changes in personnel without an accompanying replacement of belief with knowledge, in all future policy-making as these terms are definitively differentiated in my book The Rational Trinity: Imagination, Belief and Knowledge, and applied in this website. However, at this point, I see that my original objective of encouraging voters to pressurise politicians to replace belief-only policies with knowledge-only alternatives can be expanded to the encouragement of politicians themselves to undertake this replacement in order to curtail the current freedom of bureaucracies to implement bureaucratic belief-only policies; and that voters and politicians could thus collaborate in the implementation of party-specific knowledge-only policies and in the suppression bureaucratic belief-only alternatives.                                                                           4/9/20.                                                              

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