“If Universal Credit is a flop, then it will prove our current Whitehall set-up is failing. But if it succeeds, it will be no thanks to the Civil Service either.”
So says a Spectator article apparently examining why Iain Duncan Smith’s flagship policy has received an Amber/Red status warning from the Major Projects Authority.
If it works, the government will take credit; if it fails, the government will blame the Civil Service. Never mind the fact that the plan is trying to make three incompatible computer systems work together, in real time. And we haven’t even discussed the pros and cons of what the government wants that system to do, what it will mean for people who will be forced into it, or what it signifies for the wider economy (in one word: trouble).
No – because this is the Conservatives’ latest wheeze, in case they don’t get elected in 2015: Blame the Civil Service for everything, cut it back, and leave the actual mechanics of government unusable by anybody who follows them.
So let’s put a few things straight right now: The British Civil Service is the most well-developed, professional and able government organisation on this planet. Its officers are highly competent and are able to provide expert advice and assistance on any project to which they are applied. I know this because I have worked within a government department where they did not take incompetence lightly and they knew how to weed out underachievers – the same government department responsible for Universal Credit, as it happens.
The ministers responsible for foisting this unworkable policy on these professionals, on the other hand, are a group of amateurs from an organisation that treats politics as a game. They have no prior training in their jobs, other than perhaps expressions of interest in Work and Pensions, at the same level as a hobby.
Look how Sue Marsh describes Iain Duncan Smith – the Secretary of State – in her excellent Diary of a Benefits Scrounger: “He went to a council estate once, saw some frightfully poor people and thought he would sort out ‘welfare’ because, well, they couldn’t possibly need all that food and warmth and bedrooms and stuff.
“With his trusty right hand man, Lord Freud, failed investment banker (and yes, related to Sigmund and Lucian), who famously sorted the whole new plan out in three weeks, with no knowledge or experience of social security at all, clutching the Daily Mail as their handbook, what could possibly go wrong?”
Everything. And it’s no surprise to anybody (apart from the Conservative Party, it seems).
These threatening noises are not the first indication of trouble within the Civil Service. It is, in fact, deeply troubled as a result of Conservative – not Coalition – agitation.
Vox Political reported in February on Michael Gove’s for-profit plans to halve the Department for Education’s administration, with 1,000 job losses and the closure of six regional offices. Almost one-third of remaining staff will switch between teams working on time-limited projects, a plan that almost guarantees that these projects will be poorly-executed.
One presumes the Civil Service will get the blame when they are – even though, again, Tory bad planning is the real culprit.
The Spectator article describes the Education situation in the following, stunningly-blinkered, fashion: “Michael Gove owes his success in reforming schools not to the alacrity shown by his department in signing up to his agenda, but to a superstructure of advisers that he brought in to operate above the existing officials.” In other words, he brought his ignorant mates in to force their foolishness on the professionals.
No wonder Vox Political reported in February that “the changes have created an atmosphere of disillusionment across Whitehall, with two-thirds of Britain’s most senior civil servants now so demoralised that they are considering quitting public service, according to a survey by the FDA union.
“How will our public services function if everybody who knows how they work has walked away in despair?”
The answer is, they won’t. The Tories are banking on it.
That is why these dangerous idiots must never be allowed into power again – and when I use the term “idiot”, I do so with reference to Athenian democracy, which describes an idiot as a person lacking professional skill, having bad judgement in public and political matters, characterised by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private, as opposed to public, affairs.
That seems an accurate description of the entire Parliamentary Conservative Party.