Friday, February 02, 2007

Sheena's party, that's a case in point

OK, Slugger O'Toole quotes the complete lobby briefing by PM's Spokesman Tom "Walter Mitty figure" Kelly. What struck me is not just that the Big Kahuna moving through the joint is a cop these days. That was obvious enough, ever since Angus McNeil and Norman Baker punched through the crust of elite consensus. No-one had ever imagined that someone would actually report a PM to the cops over the well-known and entirely ignored provisions of the 1925 act, but there was no specific factor you could name that would keep Bob, Bill, and their brothers from the door at No.10. Just the perceptual framework. No surprise that a Scot Nat and a Lib Dem - note that these are the only parties whose names are routinely truncated - were the ones to bring a drop of the old sys.disrupt to the party.

But the there here? Here it is. Scrolling down the transcript, you get to this beauty:
Asked if Jonathan Powell had been questioned again, the PMOS said that Jonathan Powell was a Special Advisor and therefore a temporary Civil Servant, therefore he would not talk about him or his work.
Now, I've made fun of Powell before. The head of Blair's personal staff is worthy of a whole blog - his super-elite background, his parents' closeness to the neoconservative/Thatcher/Bush scene, his decision to make a career outside the civil service, his return, his insistence on the basic currency of Whitehall, line management powers, when he got there, his performance at the Hutton inquiry, all could make a neat map of the post-Thatcher deep state.

Irony doesn't come any deeper, though, than the man who the Serious Press excoriated for giving orders to civil servants without being a proper one himself being protected from the press on the grounds that he is a civil servant, and therefore, the PMOS could not possibly answer questions about him for fear of politicising the civil service.

Of course, the whole argument about "politicising the civil service" serves the Redwood consensus beautifully. Look at its apostles - Lord Butler is exhibit A, one of a tiny elite of bureaucratic chieftains to have run not one but two official whitewashes. The first one let Jonathan Aitken off on the grounds he was a gentleman. The second let Tony Blair off on the grounds his terms of reference limited him to "systems". These were political acts, pure and simple. The first served, unsuccessfully, the aim of protecting ministers and officials from institutional scrutiny. The second protected the unfettered discretion of the intelligence-administrative deep state.

What is meant by "politicising" changes over time. It's dynamically typed, as a programmer would say. It used to be "Shock! The Labour government expects the government press officers to argue its case!" This usually came from the retired, for reasons that should be obvious. Now, it's "Shock! Parliament and the broader public wants to see the documents!" This comes from everyone, for reasons that should be obvious.

But it's always, in the end, open to the government and the indistinguishable top officials to order anyone else around. Only accountability guarantees civil service independence.

No comments:

kostenloser Counter