Bullying ministers and know better civil servants

So what has Philip Rutman, Pritti Patel, Jim Hacker and Ricky Gervais, and while I’m at it senior local council officers, senior civil servants and the Washington swamp got in common? This relates to a lot of recent hoo har, and questions being asked in the House. But bear with me, for all will be revealed …

But first to another subject that has a bearing – that of bullying, in particular in the workplace. It happens too often and I have met many who have been harmed and experienced it myself. It is insidious and should not be tolerated. Sometimes the claim of being bullied is by those not up to doing their job, and those affected, especially those they report to or work with, can take out their frustration by bullying. Whether, as is being claimed, Sir Philip Rutman, who recently stepped down as Permanent Secretary to the Home Office, was bullied by his former boss, Home Secretary, Ms Pritti Patel, is true, remains to be seen. It reminds me a bit of one of my favorite sitcoms, when the minister, Jim Hacker, was constantly fighting battles with Permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleton, who thought he knew better than his minister and sought to guide him in the “right” direction. The difference between the two scenarios was one was acrimonious; the other was good humour.

The problem with trying to come to a view on the who is right or wrong is I don’t know all the facts and I am not a fly on the wall. But given those siding with Rutman and another victim of alleged bullying, Lynn Davidson, by those from the government side, tend to be liberal types who among other things dislike Boris and Brexit, and those siding with Patel are the opposite, makes it easier for me to say what I think, using the example of my fourth named person in my opening comment, Ricky (I don’t care what you think as he told those attending the Golden Globe awards) Gervais. Two related articles I found interesting. The first, titled: “Exposing The Shameful Corruption In Our Civil Service. Rutnam Is Only The Tip Of The Iceberg” begins: “There’s been an awful lot of column inches and verbal discussion since Sir Philip Rutnam dramatically resigned as permanent secretary for the Home Office on Saturday. As usual, the mainstream media has been economical with the facts, whilst on social media, most of the assertions have been fabricated one way or another. So let’s be clear, instead of choosing a side based on our political biases – left, right, leave, remain, we’ll use evidence! Rutnam is your typical civil servant, well paid, privileged position, little or no accountability and out of touch with the trials and tribulations of the average working men, women and families of Britain. Yet he wields power well above most elected MPs and even ministers of state”. The second, titled: “We are in the dark days of Civil Service disobedience, says ANN WIDDECOMBEis more circumspect and begins “I have no doubt that Priti Patel is demanding but that does not make her a bully. Shouting and irascibility never help but they are signs of exasperation and, believe me who knows it, the Home Office would exasperate the Angel Gabriel. What is unacceptable is deliberate briefing against civil servants and if she or any of her political advisers have done this, then she or they must be called to account, for what is at stake is more than just the feelings of one man. It is the integrity of the Civil Service and its role in helping Ministers to run the country”.

As Yes Minister showed so brilliantly, there was a tension between the “officers” of government who have to follow rules and be more aware of the practical considerations and the elected “members” of government who in principle are accountable to delivering on what they promised the electorate and carrying out the will of Parliament. Yet this simple “in principle” idea often does not work “in practice” if the first article is true and Civil Servants deliberately go against the instructions of their ministers. I am pretty sure that is what happened to cause so much disruption in the Brexit process and is an issue in politics both in the US and the UK with its own version of the Swamp. It is also an issue locally as two of my councilor friends have pointed out with Senior Local Government officers not doing what those who have been voted in by the people have asked them. While I welcome some tension, Civil Servants should remember they are just that – servants, serving the ministers of the crown (and they often do well out of it) and not their own agendas and interests.

I daresay the story will roll and interesting snippets have yet to come out. When concerning these matters a friend claimed “there is something rotten at the heart of the Government” my response was and still is “some would say there is something rotten about the higher echelons of the Civil Service. O for flies on the wall” but with the caveat that bullying to get your way is unacceptable and the rider that those who run the country are those we elect to do so.


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