Bagehot – The government takes on the civil service | Britain

Bagehot – The government takes on the civil service | Britain

Jul 2nd 2020THE CEASEFIRE is over. A couple of months ago the government suspended its war on the establishment “blob” to focus on covid-19 but, alt

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THE CEASEFIRE is over. A couple of months ago the government suspended its war on the establishment “blob” to focus on covid-19 but, although the epidemic continues to rage, it has taken up arms again. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, has declared that “a hard rain” is going to fall on the civil service and Mr Johnson has blasted his biggest target to date. In effect he sacked Sir Mark Sedwill, who combined the job of the head of the civil service with that of national security adviser, the day after Michael Gove, the minister for the Cabinet Office, laid out a blueprint for reforming Whitehall in a lecture to the great and the good.

The government’s critics complain that this is a cynical ploy to shift the blame for Britain’s dismal handling of the epidemic from politicians to civil servants. The government argues that rebuilding post-covid Britain requires a better bureaucracy. Whichever of these clashing positions is closer to the truth—and there is probably something in both—the fight to refashion the civil service will be at the heart of politics for the rest of Mr Johnson’s premiership.

The lecture contained lots of typically Govian fireworks—a quotation from Gramsci (“The inherited is dying—and the new cannot be born”), W.H. Auden’s description of the 1930s (“a low dishonest decade”). But it also contained a…



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