Following the general election in December, Boris Johnson recently carried out a small reshuffle in his cabinet. This reshuffle has seen former key players within the government leave and be replaced. This has been met with increased speculation for chief aide Dominic Cummings’ plans for civil service reform.
A major shakeup to the cabinet was the resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid. Javid’s resignation was rumoured to be “engineered” by the Prime Minister due to a clash over Javid’s refusal to dismiss a number of personal advisors as the government instructed him to. Another big name to go was Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith. During his six months in the role Smith managed to restore power-sharing in Stormont. Smith is alleged to have made “difficult compromises” during the negotiations, much to Johnson’s dismay, which may have encouraged his dismissal.
The reshuffle has sparked controversies, namely the “Priti Patel saga“. Patel has faced multiple accusations of bullying from civil servants and advisors working in the Home Office, from throwing files at civil servants to “swearing and snarling” at them.
The reshuffle has also brought to light Cummings’ plans to reform the civil service. There is much anticipation and scepticism towards these plans which have said he will merge departments, impose pay caps, move entire agencies out of London and single-handedly reform defence procurement. Many vocal critics have said Cummings’ “seismic” plans will fail to succeed, namely due to the size of the civil service in the UK and due to how permanent it is.
This Sunday, the editors will be debating whether major civil service reform is what the UK government needs or whether it undermines our democracy.
Written by POI Correspondent, Emer Kelly
Black smog hangs over the civil service and only a full review will clear the air – Labour Article
The eruption following Sir Phillip Rutnam’s resignation is a damning insight into the dysfunction of our government. Disagreement between a minister and a civil servant is not unusual. A detonation like this is.
Just as with volcanic activity, pressure has been slowly building. Tensions have habitually flared up since Johnson got into government. They have only exacerbated since the election.
To lay the blame solely with Priti Patel is tempting. After all, her track record is abysmal. It spans worrying involvement with tobacco and alcohol lobbying; arguing for the return of the death penalty; and her resignation in 2017 following shocking revelations that she secretly met Israeli politicians and subsequently lied to both the public and Prime Minister.
As more accusations of her bullying arrive, an independent inquiry into the affair should be carried out. If Mrs Patel is found to have breached the Ministerial Code, she must go. Whether Boris will have the spine for that when he so highly values her dogmatic ideological loyalty is a different matter.
However, this crisis did not come from the failures of one figure alone. Rather, it is the culmination of the current hostility emanating from the government to the Civil Service, one that deepens existing divisions.
Much has been made of the clear disdain Dominic Cummings has for the British bureaucracy. As Boris’ right hand man, he has clearly set the tone for this conflict. From his rambling blog posts to his recent casting call for “misfits and weirdos”, little respect is shown for the hard work of the civil service. Patel is clearly cut from the same cloth.
(Interesting to note that Cummings started government work as a special advisor under Michael Gove at the Department for Education where, amongst other things, a senior official received a £250,000 payout after accusing Cummings and others of… bullying.)
Such aggressive disregard for an integral aspect of British politics is inflammatory at best. But in view of the aforementioned fault lines, it is badly timed and badly handled.
Take ‘the People Survey’. It collates feedback from Civil Service staff and the most recent results show that at least 10% of those workers say they have been harassed or bullied. Mrs Patel’s alleged behaviour is sadly not an isolated incident.
What to make of this toxic chain of events? Fundamentally, the relationship between politics and policy is flawed. We’re facing an argument about the very future of the Civil Service. Its apolitical nature is, for better or worse, effectively unique in the developed world and as such has been a real source of frustration for ruling governments, who have sought to circumvent it (Blair’s special advisors) or suggested scrapping it (another Coalition U-turn).
So if Cummings and his cadre are serious about Civil Service reform, they should pack in the playground bullying and instead commit to a full review of the system. The last such exercise was the Haldane Report of 1918. As Britain enters the post-Brexit era, now is the time to bring our bureaucracy into the 21st century. That’s the only real way this disaster will blow over.
Written Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders.
Point of Information
We should not let a few ‘bad eggs’ ruin the basket. – a Conservative response
An enquiry is necessary into the civil service as a whole and I agree one is required of Ms. Patel. Recent allegations are worrying however I refuse to jump to any conclusions without knowing the full details. To hold the party and government responsible for this would be unreasonable. Just because a couple of reports are appearing now does not mean you can blame the abuse solely on a Boris Johnson government.
This article focuses heavily on the current abuse cases but forgets to mention the potential benefits that exist of a stronger executive through a changing civil service. This will allow government to achieve what it was elected to. Mr. Saunders may find this idea scary but the electorate who handed Mr. Johnson this clear mandate do not.
Cummings’ call for different types of people to work for the civil service does not show little respect (as mentioned) but instead signposts intentions to improve what we currently have. It invites those to join who can fulfil the civil service’s potential, people who previously may not have considered a role. We should not view this move as a negative one.
Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps
Systematic bullying cannot be accepted; we need serious change – a Liberal response
Having read Mr. Saunders’ article, I am relieved to see that he, like myself, won’t let the bullies’ actions be accepted. Mr. Saunders’ and I have both acknowledged that high-tier politicians are allowed to stomp all over their co-workers, forcing them to take a buyout. How as a public can we sit by and allow this? I understand that Boris Johnson is allowed to pick his advisors but seriously: how does he allow Cummings to stay? Mr. Saunders clearly shows that Dominic Cummings’ lacks the respect for the work of the Civil Service and their role within British bureaucracy.
Although Mr. Kipps mentions that we cannot allow a few people to spoil the party, but it isn’t just a few. The People Survey shows that 10% of Civil Service staff have suffered harassment or bullying. In 2019, over 400’000 people were employed in the Civil Service. That means that on average, 40’000 workers have been a victim of bullying or harassment in the workplace. This number is absurdly high and needs to be condoned. As a final note, I agree with Mr. Saunders that a reform is needed in the Civil Service system. The system clearly does not work and we need to change it before it gets completely out of hand.
Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael.
Reform not negative! – Conservative Article
Only time will tell the extent to which these civil service reforms will truly be effective. Reform is not unusual for the public sector; however, this time does appear to be different. With a Prime Minister who has a commanding majority, he has to be able to get radical reform through. The civil service is the key to being able to do this. A large civil service can reduce the power of the PM, something Dominic Cummings I’m sure won’t allow.
The idea of a closer relationship, something we can be certain off after the replacement of the chancellor’s advisors, between No. 10 and No. 11 is not something we should be so sceptical about. The PM’s plans must coincide with plans for the economy and I see no better way than one combined team. This could ensure there is more transparency for the treasury in terms of the PM’s future plans for economic policy. Not only this but that these policies are realistic in relation to our economic position.
In terms of the civil servants – although the system is not broken, there is still a lot to fix. Many senior civil servants are out of touch with working people and although this is not easy, they struggle to speak truth to power when necessary. There is a lack of focus on the bigger picture by many, something that I believe ought to be of the highest importance. The system can also be more efficient; technology is rapidly changing and with this, the civil service must adapt with it.
Having read Cummings blog it is clear that the future of the civil service, at least whilst he continues to support Mr Johnson, lies within a more scientific realm. This would undoubtedly benefit the civil service. For far too long there has been a lack of scientific influence on policy. Although it is important to retain many other professionals, this added knowledge would not hinder the government. We should take advantage of the huge potential that there is for our civil service.
The government will clearly benefit from any changes in terms of getting through there agenda, we should positively look at this. Too many times over the past year has the political institutions held up the government in passing Brexit related agenda. The civil service cannot be the reason there are any hold ups again. In the same breath we should be wary of too strong an executive however, changes to an impartial part of the political institution are not the most important thing to think about if that’s your worry.
Ultimately, we should embrace reform. There is much more we can do to improve efficiency and ensure its support to the government, whichever party. Consequently giving the Prime Minister a better chance to deliver what he has promised and what he was elected to do.
Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps.
Point of Information
Cowering behind his prime minister not acknowledging his flaws – a Liberal response
Although Mr. Kipps mentions that the civil service has potential, he cowers away behind his ivory tower of Boris Johnson’s antics. He defends the man who believes it is acceptable to steal the power from the people and consolidate his own. Mr. Kipps attempts to justify Johnson’s actions by claiming it “coincides with plans for the economy”, yet where is the evidence? Where can it be proven that Johnson forcing Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is part of the country’s plans to boost our economy? Boris’ actions have made a laughing stock of our democracy and I am baffled by how Mr. Kipps can back the PM.
However, Mr. Kipps does make some good points about the potential future of the civil service. Their role is to promote the will of the people and this does need reform in order to do well. In terms of the changing role of technology, I agree with Mr. Kipps that technology is always changing and our government, and civil service, need to catch up. We cannot fall behind in a society dictated by the use of technology and digital media.
In terms of Dominic Cummings’ determination for a more scientific approach, I disagree. Although scientific methodology and data analysis can provide a good structure on how to function, at the end of the day, it’s all about the people. We cannot allow that concept to escape.
Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papimichael
Right idea about reform – wrong idea about everything else – a Labour Response
It’s no surprise to see the above article completely sidestep the discussion of alleged abusive behaviour. Facing up to the human consequences of their actions has never been a strength of the Conservatives.
The frustrations emanating from Johnson’s nearest and dearest are the obvious result of the ‘move fast and break things’ attitude endemic of this administration.
But velocity is not the same thing as direction. The confused stance above clearly shows this. (Maybe more scientific knowledge is necessary amongst those interested in politics).
For example, Mr Kipps feels that a “large civil service can reduce the power of the PM”. And yet, as a Brexiteer, he must know that civil service numbers have necessarily been rising since 2016 to deal with the bureaucratic demands of Brexit. As we renegotiate our relationship with the EU and the wider world, he surely agrees that this should continue.
And he endorses Johnson’s jilting of Sajid Javid and all his advisors (pushed out in part because the Treasury continues to highlight the negative economic impact of a no-deal scenario) whilst also arguing that our bureaucracy must speak “truth to power”. Javid knows this all too well. Does our Conservative Editor?
Just like Boris and co, Mr Kipps seems to want our bureaucracy to function like the butlers Old Etonians are so accustomed to. Agreeing with everything, questioning nothing, and most importantly, always taking the blame.
I agree with the need for reform – but not with the bullying. The best path for achieving real change is through an official report on the right direction for our administration in the 21st century. Only then can we create a new consensus for our civil service.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders
Boris Johnson’s abuse of the civil service degrades democracy – Liberal Article
Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle has seen some influential faces come and go. A huge loss is that of Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who brought significant diversity coming from a Muslim background. Although I don’t believe that Javid was only brought in to fill a diversity quota, he did demonstrate the progressive thinking of the British government even back in 2012. However, Johnson’s forced outing of Javid through his desire to increase No. 10’s power demonstrates two things: lack of care for diversity and abuse of power.
Although Boris Johnson has brought other names from minority backgrounds, such as Rishi Sunak and Alok Sharma, the removal of Javid shows that Johnson is not afraid to reduce the ethnic background of his cabinet. Although Johnson’s forceful pressure on Javid was not racially driven, it adds to the sceptical intentions of Boris. The main reason for Javid’s outing revolves around his own morals. When pressured by Johnson, Javid refused to sack his special advisors and opted to resign instead. Although Boris Johnson did not fire Javid, his pressure to increase his on power by replacing advisors with his own was the tipping point. How is it democratic when those who are given a role are forced to change their own staff because of pressure from their superior? We as people democratically elected our MPs because we believe in their ability to lead this country, we did not elect a government who can bully each other into submitting.
Johnson’s abusive tactics have degraded our democracy. How can we praise a democratic society when we allow autocratic bullies like Boris Johnson suppress his own cabinet? Although many do believe that Johnson was pressured by advisor Dominic Cummings MP, Javid explained that the decision was made by the prime minister himself. Even if the prime minister’s decision-making was poisoned by his top his advisors, we cannot stand by and allow it. If that is the case, why is the public sitting by and letting it happen? If this is how our democracy works, then I believe there is a deep-rooted problem within the core of our government.
This sparks a debate about the role of civil servants in current British politics. To what extent is the role of civil servants to serve the prime minister or the people? On the civil service website they say “The Civil Service delivers public services and supports the government of the day to develop and implement its policies.” However, can we determine where the line is drawn? I think that the civil service needs a serious change into how they intend to run. The civil service needs to make the decision: do we focus on the people or the party in power? This question is a crucial determinant of its future. If they decide to power the people, then we have a more democratic society, and the public opinion is truly voiced. If the government is prioritised, then they can be forced into representing the government’s will. Although it is highly unlikely we will seen an autocratic dictatorship rise, it does open the door into serious questions about the British political climate.
Written by Liberal Writer, Charlie Papamichael
Point of Information
Neither an abuse of power nor lack of care for diversity. – a Conservative response
I struggle to see eye to eye with Mr. Papamicheal on this issue. This is not a Prime Minister abusing his power but consolidating it to get things done. Mr. Papamicheal is right, we do democratically elect our MP’s to represent us and Sajid Javid can continue to do so, from the back benches. It is the PM’s decision who he wants within cabinet, not the public. So as long as this is still the case I see nothing wrong with Boris Johnson’s decision. A strong executive is vital in times of uncertainty; a move for a closer relationship between the treasury and No.10 will only assist with this.
Mr. Papamicheal raises the point that there must be a decision made about the civil service’s role for the future. Once again I disagree. The civil service is impartial, its job is to present the government with the information from which ministers can decide. There doesn’t need to be a focus on either the people or a party just the presentation of all sides from which the elected representative can decide, isn’t this the most democratic way forward?
Written by Chief Conservative Writer, Fletcher Kipps.
Confused response makes for weak criticism – a Labour response
Much like the Liberal Democrats themselves, Mr Papamichael’s argument seems more than a little lost, focusing too much on the wrong issues and ignoring the right ones.
The discussion on diversity is frankly bizarre. I have little desire to distract from the real issue, namely the role of the civil service in the context of Sir Phillip Rutnam’s resignation.
But I can’t ignore this sentence, that hiring Sajid Javid works to “demonstrate the progressive thinking of the Conservative Government back in 2012”.
Progressive thinking? As if we should pat the Tories on the back for deigning to hire someone from a minority background? As if being representative of the people is not the bare minimum we should expect from our parties and politicians?
This level of sycophancy for the Conservative government is frankly a little sickening.
The above article does eventually arrive at the topic at hand, namely the festering culture of bullying and harassment in Number 10 and its ramifications on the civil service. Criticism of Boris’ ideological purge of Sajid Javid is understandable and justified. The complete lack of discussion about Priti Patel and her alleged behaviour is not. The final discussion on the role of the civil service is where this piece should have started.
Written by Chief Labour Writer, Evan Saunders
I am an incoming third year undergraduate currently studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. I am socially liberal, fiscally conservative editor here at POI. I have been fascinated by politics for many years, from PMQs to late night election results all which has led to the desire to study this at university.
I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).
I am a second year student currently reading International Relations and Modern Languages at the University of Exeter.