Coffee House

Once civil servants have praised one Prime Minister, they must praise them all

15 April 2013

Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Bob Kerslake have penned a civil service tribute to Margaret Thatcher in today’s Telegraph. They laud her as the ‘best kind of boss.’ They are full of praise for her habit of producing home-cooked shepherd pie for civil servants working late, a hint—perhaps—to the current occupant of Downing Street.

But I have to say that the whole thing makes me slightly queasy. These two men place a huge value on civil service neutrality but applauding her for the fact the ‘civil service was modernised’ on her watch does seem to be, or risks being seen, as a political statement. While their warm words about how ‘instead of setting herself up in conflict, she found allies for reform within’ the civil service could be taken as a criticism of David Cameron’s complaints about the bureaucratic ‘enemies of enterprise.’

The article also makes me wonder if the civil service will now pay tribute to every Prime Minister when they depart this mortal coil. Now that they have started doing so, they’ll have to carry on otherwise it’ll look like they are making a political judgement about the significance of each premier.

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  • Daniel Maris

    Don’t know what you are whingeing about James. You’ve supported every move to privatise the civil service and shred its ethos.

  • Smithersjones2013

    if you read Heywood’s Wiki bio the section on his career commences:

    Heywood joined HM Treasury in 1992 and became the Principal Private Secretary
    to Chancellor Norman Lamont at the age of 30, having to help facilitate
    the fallout from Black Wednesday after less than a month in the job.

    As for Kerslake according to his wiki bio was floating around various London councils during the 1980’s/1990’s before becoming Chief Executive of Sheffield Council in 1997.

    So here we have two people who have absolutely no experience of working in
    the Civil Service either prior or during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership
    almost 25 years later pontificating and posturing over her achievements
    within the Civil Service.

    Unlike them I actually worked in the central civil service during the 1980’s and 1990’s and it was clear at the time that one of the main aims of the First Division
    (the senior hierarchy of the Civil Service) was to thwart those reforms
    at every turn (much as I suspect they are doing currently) and in that the FIrst Division were more than successful defining and delaying such reforms in such a way as to do as little damage to their own little fiefdoms as possible. Not only that but after 13 years of Labour zealotry and mismanagement how on earth any of those reforms are recognisable given the obese dysfunctionality of the modern day public sector is beyond belief.

    Not only that but the so called reforms led to a major brain drain out of
    the Civil service and the outsourcing of key functions in such a way as
    to allow the private sector to hold Government to effective ransom in
    future years (as in the provision of Government Information Technology where a severe knowledge gap was created and remains).In many ways they can be seen as facilitating the subsequent failures of the public sector under Labour.

    So rather than worry what sort of example Heywood and Kerslake are setting for the
    future perhaps journalists should lambast them for what is the most
    crass and shallow posturing which arguably lacks much if any factual substance.

    After all they wouldn’t know because they weren’t there. They would have been better off keeping their mouths shut…….

    • rubyduck

      “outsourcing of key functions in such a way as to allow the private sector to hold Government to effective ransom in
      future years (as in the provision of Government Information Technology where a severe knowledge gap was created and remains)”

      Government being ripped off by suppliers is traditional and certainly predates Thatcher. Re. IT : pretty well every enterprise, private or public, is paying the price of outsourcing/off-shoring which took off in the mid 90s. The knowledge gap was predictable and predicted (by me, for one) and is by no means specific to the civil service which to all appearances had one before long before it became fashionable.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    I find it very sad that people speak of the dead like this. It used to be the consensus that when somebody died, even if he was your most bitter enemy, you found something good to say about him. By waiting until Mrs Thatcher died until writing their eulogy, Sir Jeremy and Sir Bob have broken no rules on impartiality. By contrast, James Forsyth is more in tune with the scum who are planning to disrupt her funeral.

  • Tom Tom

    Did Sir Jeremy Heywood do that on behalf of Morgan Stanley ? He does a good line in cocktail parties which Victor Blank and Gordon Brown know how to savour

  • HookesLaw

    You have to wonder how much rewriting of history is going on by these people – there were various strikes and issues throughout this period, quite a bit of conflict with the civil service.

  • John Webb

    How do they know she was such a good boss? Surely they were students when she was PM. If they are relying on hearsay, what is the point of their intervention?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Please apply that protocol to all the lefty 20 somethings currently spouting off about her, the ones whose mummy and daddy paid gap years were simply terrible due to her merciless harrying of the north.

      • Tom Tom

        Stop being snotty about Northern England – it is not just that place between Canada and Mexico that has a Mason-Dixon

  • Adrian Drummond

    Yes, Heywood does not have a great record writing reports.

  • Russell

    I think a ‘boss’ (The PM) who has a habit of producing home-cooked shepherd pie for civil servants working late is infinitely more preferable than ducking nokias and hearing the foul mouthed previous occupants/frequenters of No.10 like Campbell, McBride, Whelan etc. and praising her was totally the right thing to do in the light of the hate and bile spewing from the lefties at this moment.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      Agreed. Leo McKinstry described Gordon Brown’s office along the lines of “a cockpit of paranoia, dysfunction and resentment”. I cannot imagine too many Shepherd’s Pies emerging from that rats nest of stinkers for the benefit of hardworking civil servants.

      • Tom Tom

        Leo McKinstry must regret being a Labour Councillor in Islington and a Researcher to Harriet Harman, don’t you think ?

      • telemachus

        As we speak Gus O’Donnell is penning a few lines of fulsome prise for Gordon who endured such opprobrium gracefully during his Downing Street tenure

        • Russell

          Maybe Brown got the miners to donate a helmet instead of a shepherds pie to Gus!

          • telemachus

            I begin to detect a little nostalgia and even some admiration for Gordon

            • Russell

              The only feeling I have for Brown is detestation, same as for Balls, Blair, Miliband, Prescott and all the incompetents in government between 1997 and 2010.
              I’m surprised the miners and trade unions and their supporters, don’t do ‘hate’ campaigns weekly as it was labour who closed 250 pits in 5 years as opposed to 150 pits by Maggie over her much longer 3 terms in office, plus it was labour who closed the Steel works, introduced privatisation to the NHS, tuition fees and a whole lot more.

              • telemachus

                You speak the collective decline of old style industries
                Think instead of the leap in employment particularly youth employment by the new industries stimulated by the economic environment created by Gordon
                I keep saying it was sad that Lehman etc puncuated the leap forward but we were fortunate indeed that Gordon was there to save the banks both sides of the Atlantic.
                When Gordon goes we will salute him

                • Makroon

                  “New industries” ? You mean bankruptcy practitioners ?

                • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                  The only leap in employment during this period was a result of an explosion of growth in the public sector, Brown’s intention being that these people would all vote Labour. The fact that this sector is totally unproductive and generates no wealth is now being addressed although not as aggressively as it should.

              • jack mustard

                Labour didn’t close any pits or steelworks – the ones that hadn’t been shutdown by Thatcher were flogged off.

                • Russell

                  It seems what you say doesn’t cut the mustard jack!

                  From the NUM history page.

                  “Throughout the 60s, with a Labour Government in office from 1964, the pit closure programme accelerated; it decimated the industry. During this period, nearly 300 more pits were closed, and the total workforce slumped from over 750,000 in the late 1950s down to 320,000 by 1968. In many parts of Britain, miners now became known as industrial gypsies as pit closures forced them to move from coalfield to coalfield in search of secure jobs.”

                  I suggest you use the internet instead of repeating the lies spouted from the Labour party and hypocritically by the NUM!

                • Nicholas chuzzlewit

                  270 pits closed under the various premierships of Harold Wilson considerably more than the 160 closed under Margaret Thatcher. The number of Miners made redundant under Wilson was, of course, comensurately larger. Also, neither actually ‘closed’ pits they removed the application of subsidies. Had the pits been profitable after said withdrawals they would have remained open. They were not and so they closed. No point in mining coal at £200 a ton if the world market price is £100 although Scargill would argue that was perfectly feasible. For the avoidance of doubt, Harold Wilson was definitely a Labour PM and not a Tory so Russell is correct.

                • Sue Ward

                  Your knee-jerk partisanship ignores the facts. More pits closed under Labour in the 60s and 70s than under Thatcher,

            • Nicholas chuzzlewit

              You detect wrongly. Sensible, economically literate people feel only a burning contempt for the arrogant, bullying, incompetent coward who shamed his office and this country for ever day he spent in power. He also bequeathed a structural deficit courtesy of his incontinent spending which will take the work of generations to clear. He spent the money creating a client state from the feckless, work shy and indolent designed solely to keep himself in power. Fat lot of good it did him as he was thrown out on his ear in the only election as PM that he ever fought. And no, it was not Lehman bros that threw us of course it was Gordon Brown and the scum trailing in his wake.

        • Makroon

          Everyone knows Gus is a Blairite.

    • Paddy

      Hear, hear!

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