20 March 2011

Shock - bureaucrats undermine ministers

Thus the Sunday Times (£):
The uncooperative approach of some officials has driven ministers to take unconventional measures to circumvent them. One said he had asked for a briefing on a policy only to receive a single side of A4 paper.[1]  He was so desperate for information that he discreetly contacted a pressure group, which handed him a full dossier.[2] It later emerged the group’s data had also been sent to his officials. Another minister has started showing his civil servants’ reports to private sector experts because he is worried he is being selectively briefed. [3] He said: "Do I take my civil servants’ briefings at face value? No. Then I go outside to someone in the sector and say, 'Is this kosher?' and they say, 'Absolutely not'".
One must presume these unnamed ministers are LibDems who never though they would get a sniff of office, as surely every Conservative MP knows only too well that the civil service has its own self-serving tax and spend agenda and will work unceasingly to undermine a government committed to retrenchment.

But the quoted passage underlines another key point, which is that the apparatchiki have become as powerful as they are because what they ironically refer to as their "political masters" are lazy and unprepared.
  1. Churchill dominated his officials and one of the methods he used was to require them to reduce all briefings to one sheet of paper to cut out the ifs, buts and maybes.
  2. Any competent minister avoids seeking advice from his officials until he is as fully informed as possible about the alternatives from non-apparat sources. 
  3. To depend on officials for information is indolent beyond the point of negligence.

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