Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Protesting Too Much

The Speccie has a story about the estimable Dr Fox saying what we all know, which is that the Foreign Office has its own agenda, particularly on Europe.

But though that position might be popular with many Tories, Fox’s words offended Sir Paul Lever, the former British ambassador to Germany and Assistant Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, who told Coffee House Dr Fox was deliberately shifting the focus of debate to make political points:

‘Civil servants, whether you like it or not, work for ministers. Those in the Foreign Office worked as enthusiastically for Mrs Thatcher when she was waving her handbag as they did for other Prime Ministers of Foreign Secretaries who had completely different views. For former ministers to rubbish civil servants because they are afraid of criticising their party friends is a cop out.

‘If you don’t like the country’s policy on the EU, criticise the ministers who are making it. The idea that they are all just prisoners of their civil servants and they just do what the department tells them to do is bollocks, that’s not how government works and he knows its not how government works.’

Sorry, Sir Paul. I simply don't believe you. The mandarins work for themselves, not ministers. They might work with ministers from time to time, but the Sir Humphreys of this world are, we can be sure, exactly as the great Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn portrayed them.

Ministers come and go with great frequency, whilst the great panjandrums of Whitehall stick around for ever, and almost never get fired for incompetence, even when the witnesses for the prosecution are lined up around the block.

That they are clever and talented, I have no doubt. If they were working in Britain's best interests, I'm sure they could outfox their counterparts in Brussels and Berlin and Paris. But the evidence is that they have sold us down the river, even during times of handbag-waving by that independent-minded heroine, the Lady Thatcher. We are up to our ochsters in Euromanure, and it is time to struggle free. The 'advice' of civil servants will be to see how things develop, not to frighten the horses, not to do anything rash, wait until we suffocate, etc etc etc.

Trouble is, Cameron and Hague appear to agree with them.


Blue Eyes said...

"Sorry, Sir Paul. I simply don't believe you. The mandarins work for themselves, not ministers. "


Sebastian Weetabix said...

The mandarins are at least honest. It IS government policy to integrate, and has been ever since Thatcher pushed through the Single European Market Act. Which was, and is, a de-facto customs union; which in turn was always intended to lead to a single state. Now they pretend they didn't know. No wonder our "partners" are fed up with British political perfidy. Our pols sign up for things and when the plebs make a hoo-hah they all pretend they weren't at the scene of the crime and a nasty man in Brussels did it.

As for those lying bastards Cameron, Osborne, Hague, Fox and all the rest of those Tory quislings (yes, you included, Boris Johnson) I point out that they all talk a good game from time to time but in their deeds they are Europhiliac. Blaming the FO mandarins is cowardly and just done to give these spineless c*nts top cover.

I'll bet my annual income that Francis Maude et al cannot come up with a single instance of a senior civil servant disobeying a direct policy instruction from a minister.

Nick Drew said...

cannot come up with a single instance of a senior civil servant disobeying a direct policy instruction from a minister

too easy

(a) minister is slightly at odds with PM of the day, civil servant reads the tea-leaves and quietly allows matters to slip

(b) minister is at odds with mandarin, but hears 'Yes, Minister' and assumes mandarin hastens to do what has been agreed without delay, learns months later that mandarin has discovered there is asbestos in the roof and, alas, nothing can be done, and anyhow events have moved on now, Minister...

I have not been a minister but I have been a committee chairman in a very large borough council, which is somewhat similar

I never had the head of department refuse anything to my face (we are talking about policy decisions supported by committee approval) but I certainly had effective disobedience

since I got on well with said head of dept in personal terms, there was always much wringing of hands, but the Chief Executive's word was law and there were only so many times one could go to the Leader of the Council and demand a dressing-down

(we eventually fired a particularly headstrong C.E., but have you any idea how difficult and expensive that is?)

Sebastian Weetabix said...

Hmm. Passive resistance is found in every large organisation and top managers have to find a way to overcome it. Being on top of people with incessant following up is a good way to start. For example, if a minister is so damned stupid he thinks hearing "yes, minister" equates to "it is done" then he isn't fit to run a whelk stall and it should be no surprise that nothing gets done. Mandarins know ministers come and ministers go and governments change their minds, so why be in a hurry? If ministers only mention it once and move on to something else no wonder suave Sir Humphrey does what he likes. You need to be on their case every day, then they know you are serious. There is a procedure to remove a permanent secretary who doesn't do as he's told. Ministers should use it.

It is a mystery to me why it should be expensive to fire a manager who disobeys direct instructions from those to whom he is accountable. In my humble experience of SME managing director-ness I had an expensive financial director. He persistently wouldn't do as he was told by the management team in relation to hedging metals and it cost us money (if you have a fixed price with your end user but a floating price for your raw materials all because a smartarse thought he could second guess the market, it frequently does not end happily). First time he was warned not to do it again; second time he got a final warning; third time he resigned before I could fire him. It is a contest of wills and you must be implacable in setting out performance standards and holding people to account.

This business of under-performing peons such as council chief execs getting telephone number payouts is a mystery to me. Just fire them. I would rather spend money on going to court than give the bastards a penny.

Nick Drew said...

with you 100% in every particular, yours is the correct recipe (including hedging raw materials!)

but for every serious ministerial player like P.Mandelson (whom, I confidently imagine, no-one ever trifled with) you have 3 or 4 jumped-up ex Spads with the business experience of a sesame-seed bap.

idle said...

Just because Lord Fondlebum of Boy was, indeed, a clever and effective minister, there is no need to remind anyone of it, Nick.

Commander Idle told me years ago that his dealings with successive Defence and Ulster secretaries revealed that the Labour Smellysocks were almost always better than the Tories who came before or after. Whether that's been true of the last 10 years, I don't know, but his argument bears some scrutiny. He started off with Merlyn Rees in Ulster, where Idle pere commanded the Navy in Londonderry, during a spicy period of that benighted province's history. He had the highest regard for Rees.

Bill Quango MP said...

One of the arms firms where I have friends is invariably much happier with a Labour minister than a Tory one.
They feel the Tory minister rarely understands their issues.

Electro-Kevin said...

Where ordinary workers' work is outsourced or deemed to be obsolete redundancies are expected.

Where demand for a product falls below a critical level redundancies are expected.

Where a product fails to heal the problems it is designed to heal then that product is pulled from the shelves.

Let's apply this to the political class:

- Outsourcing of work (to Europe and the judiciary)

- Out-of-date privileges and practices (expenses, ceremonies, hours)

- Falling demand: record lows in voter turnouts. The huge democratic deficit.

- Product failing to heal: Crime, immigration, 'war on drugs' ... and on.

There is much talk of austerity and cutting back the little people.

No-one talks of taking a skythe to Parliament, the MOD and Whitehall.

There are huge savings to be made for the benefit of the taxpayer here.

When will the political class be subject to the same treatment that the trade classes were subject to and for the very same reasons: obsolescence, inneffectiveness, outsourcing, restrictive practice and overpayment ?

Electro-Kevin said...

I don't know why my posts appear strung out like that. That's not how it looks when I type them.

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