Monday, July 09, 2007


I've been planning to write a post about politicisation of the civil service for a while now, but I've been waiting for someone to write a coherent post that is opposed so I can give it some context.

There is a really strong argument in favour of a depoliticised civil service. There must be.

It's just that I've never heard it.

I'm waiting.


MatGB said...

Blogger is being strange. I just had a comment eaten with a weird error message. So um, here's an attempt at a summary.

1) Impartial advice. Yes, it's impossible to be completely impartial, but a career advisor/administrator has the experience to look at all sides and weigh all the pros and cons.

2) Being above the day-2-day partizanship. If party politics is the be-all and end-all of all public discourse, then trust is lessened, not increased, far too many jobs, including jobs of influence, depend on an election outcome, but those responsible for ensuring impartial elections are civil servants and therefore under your scheme politicised. cf Florida 2000 and the head of the elections board being a Repub friend of the governor.

3) Stability at time of transition. It's bad enough having to appoint a completely new team of ministers and PPCs, but the US also has to appoint a huge number of senior positions across the board, including ambassadors. Career diplomats, for example, can continue in post and voice Govt policy, putting aside partizan concerns. Much better than, for example, the fuss surrounding Bolton's appointment to the UN

4) Meritocratic promotions. IF you make it all political, then knowing the right people and not annoying the wrong ones becomes more important than it already is. Yes, there's a problem with the civil service, public schools, etc, but it's one that's lessening, not increasing.

5) Most important of all. Groupthink. If all your advisers and policy makers are from the same political affiliation, then stupid decisions are much more likely. Chris could explain it better than me (and likely has several times) but a variety of opinions and outloooks within the process is to be encouraged, not abolished.

Some. None of it researched, and I'm probably missing some massively obvious ones, but y'know...

Write your post, I might be inspired enough to respond as part of my long planned kick start of the politics blog again.

Paulie said...

It's a bit annoying that the real reason that I haven't had an answer to this question could be that Blogger wouldn't let people post one.

But thanks for persevering Mat.

I would suggest that your first two examples and no.5 could be met as long as the party wasn't highly centralised, and you had powerful ministers. As far as I know, this isn't seen as a problem in France.

On point three, again, I don't think even this is too much of a problem in France - they have something of a freemasonary between ENA graduates anyway, so there's not a huge jolt (or so I recall from my long-ago reading around this subject).

On point four, I don't think that the UK is currently that meritocratic anyway, leaving aside the Oxbridge / public school weighting, I think that the highly rigid and bureaucratised way that recruitment is done results in rewards for box-tickers rather than the brightest of young things.

Andrew Zalotocky said...

If the civil service does not strive to be impartial it gives a significant electoral advantage to the party that most closely matches its views.

When that party is in power, it has the enthusiastic co-operation of the government machine. When a different party was in power it would find that its policies were constantly obstructed by government officials, who would question the wisdom of every policy and implement them with the least possible urgency. The party the civil service favoured would therefore appear dynamic and successful in power, while those it opposed would appear unable to get anything done.

The only way for a party that the civil service didn't like to succeed in government would be for it to purge the service of enemies as soon as it took power. The next party to take power would do the same. This would lead to a rapid turnover of personnel, with the result that governments were often advised on crucial matters by inexperienced people who had survived because of their party loyalties rather than their ability.

An impartial civil service strengthens democracy and improves the quality of government.