Friday, January 16, 2009

Exit, Voice and Loyalty

In a fascinating interview on Newsnight, Digby Jones outlined the way that it was apparent to junior politicians that any attempt to move the civil service in a direction that they weren't planning to go anyway would be career threatening and futile.

From The Guardian:
"If [politicians] then get up the path somewhat and become a junior minister, I feel actually that is one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences a human being can have. The whole system is designed to take the personality, the drive and the initiative out of a junior minister."
The rebuttal has been swift, comprehensive and lacking in credibility
"Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the senior civil servants' union the FDA, said he was "disappointed but not surprised" at the latest comments given the ex-minister's "traditionally maverick approach".

Mr Baume said the government's love of launching initiatives - and the current economic crisis - meant that there was an argument for more civil servants rather than less."
Jones is the only minister I've heard speak out in this way because he was always going to 'exit.'

One day, when we've finally grown up in this country, we'll have an election and decide who we want as the government. We'll have a parliament of men and women, each with their own small Cabinet. We'll have Prime Minsters scared of Cabinet Ministers, Cabinet Ministers with a local and parliamentary power-bases, and we'll have a senior civil service that is appointed in it's entirety by those Ministers.

Well have a civil service that is capable of doing something rather than just producing more and more pointless procedures, recruiting subordinates, not rivals.

Until that day, we really are just pissing in the wind, aren't we?


CharlieMcMenamin said...

Um. Whilst it is always good to read an extract from Parkinson's Law, I feel you might want to amend the particular weblink you have provided.
It is on the website of - which appears, from the dense paragraghs at the top of its main directory page, to be in trouble for Holocaust denial and which certainly seems to have some pretty distasteful anti-semitic pages.

I know this will have been accidental on your part but I thought you'd want to know...

Anonymous said...

My experience of the Home Office was depressing. I had never seen so many people doing so little of any real worth to the department or utility to society. All we did was write procedures for other civil servants and set up committees to review progress. Despite banners proclaiming the Home Office's core aims all around the building, nothing we did made anybody safer from crime or terrorism. I was put off the civil service for life.

Kevin Harris said...

I have a slightly different take on the Digby Jones quote, but I think it's important. He suggests that being a junior minister 'is one of the most dehumanising and depersonalising experiences a human being can have.' I suggest that's offensive to people who consistently have systematic dehumanising and depersonalising experiences from which they cannot so readily escape. This applies in the workplace as well as in other social contexts (Polly Toynbee's Hard Work is a handy reminder).

Do we want people like Jones in highly influential positions demonstrating such regrettable lack of understanding of exclusion? I don't.


Paulie said...

I'd agree with that Kevin. The only reason that DJ is interesting in this respect is that he had the experience of management elsewhere and realised just how badly cards are stacked against ambitious managers in the public sector. That every elected junior minister in the UK has to go through this is - for me - sufficient grounds for a coup d'etat. But I suspect I'm alone on this one....