Tuesday, 22 March 2011

No Minister!

I’ve neglected you. I apologise, holidays, email backlogs and children have led to a near month’s hiatus between my rants. Time to put this right!

I couldn’t help but notice a fascinating little article by James Forsyth in this week’s Spectator which can be read HERE. The article describes near panic in the Tory party over their inability to deliver on many of the promises made, in large part due to Civil Service intransigence.

There is a particularly juicy little anecdote in paragraph six which goes like this: “It is difficult to understate the depth of ministerial frustration. One secretary of state is so fed up with his department’s refusal to answer his questions that he has asked a friend of his, an MP, to put in a Freedom of Information request.”

I mean honestly, you can’t write comedy like this, it’s like something out of Yes Minister. It would appear that Project Cameron is falling foul of the one cast iron laws of British politics, namely that the Civil Service will only do what it wants to do and has every trick in the book to bring things to a grinding halt.

As Sir Humphrey Appleby of Yes Minister fame might have said: “There are five ways of delaying doing anything Bernard. First, publish a consultation document. Second, hold a full department inquiry. Three, commission some academic research. Four, announce we are going to do something but only when the time is right. Five, as a last resort, hold a full public inquiry, that will take years!”

My guess is the secretaries of state in question are either Chris Huhne at DECC or William Hague at the Foreign Office who will undoubtedly come in for ever more flack as this term of Parliament goes on. Hague is clearly struggling with the FO brief and Huhne is tackling the big issues (and big targets) that this country faces in terms of climate change which need big decisions. The Civil Service will meanwhile remains protected by the doctrine of Ministerial responsibility ie. the Minister takes all the blame.

Now it’s not often I’m right, but I questioned before the General Election whether Cameron would be able to do half of what he wanted due to Civil Service foot-dragging. If this report is true and Project Cameron is to succeed he needs to get a grip quick.


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