How would you react if your car tried to tell you where you should drive and when? Or if your TV rejected your ideas about what to watch tonight, and compelled you to endure programmes of its choice? You would be dismayed, shocked and angry. These devices exist to serve us, and we control them – or at least we are supposed to.
The Civil Service, though it is made up of men and women, is just such a device, a mechanism to put into action the decisions of the legitimate government, based upon lawful parliamentary democracy.
The Victorians devised it for that purpose, a machine as intricate as a Swiss watch, whose personnel are selected strictly on the basis of ability.
Of course they may advise or warn. But they have no actual power, and they should not have it. If those working in Whitehall wish to influence or change the decisions of Ministers, then they will disrupt that mechanism and frustrate democracy. That is why they cannot be allowed to do so. If they do not like this, they are as free as the rest of us to seek election and win office.
But the idea has spread in the past few years among officials that they should normally be able to override or slow down or even modify the desires of those they used to call their political masters. This would be a bad idea in any case. But it is even worse because it operates in only one direction.
MAIL ON SUNDAY: Ministers such as Home Secretary Priti Patel struggle to get Conservative policies on immigration implemented
Not only have the post-1960s generation of social and political college radicals now reached the highest offices in the Civil Service. They have been encouraged to throw their weight about by several forces.
The huge radical influence of the BBC, always on the side of the Left, gives unending backing to those in Whitehall who wish to resist conservative policies. And the brutal direct intervention in Civil Service matters by the Blair government in 1997 tipped the balance heavily and permanently to the Left. For the first time in modern history, unelected political commissars, in the shape of Alastair Campbell and Jonathan Powell, were allowed to give orders to civil servants. We may be sure they used this power to the full, albeit at the ultimate direction of an elected official.
The legacy of this change still remains. A great Blob of Left-wing obduracy, lying in the very heart of the Civil Service, blocks almost every path to conservative reform. Those officials who wish to be properly impartial are isolated. At the same time, Civil Service working practices have become worryingly lax, with huge numbers still working from home long after real businesses began a widespread return to work.
This is why Ministers such as Home Secretary Priti Patel struggle to get Conservative policies on immigration implemented. Whitehall is both biased and inefficient.
While Downing Street may have its own small team of loyal advisers, they are pitted against a legion of opponents who know every lever and quirk of the system. This is why Boris Johnson, the Queen’s First Minister with a hefty Westminster majority, cannot appoint the distinguished former editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, to be the head of the crucial media regulator Ofcom.
The car is telling its driver what to do. This simply cannot continue. Power in a parliamentary democracy must rest with Ministers, not with officials.
Reform of the Civil Service has now become the most important task of all, for without it, little else can be done.