Enough is enough: the Civil Service has gone too far in its war against a Tory Government it all too often appears to despise. The odious briefings, the targeted leaks, the trouble-making, the campaigning against the Government’s own policies on immigration, Brexit and tax: who do these people think they are?
Our Civil Service and technocracy has been overrated for decades, if not generations, but the average calibre of Whitehall and quango staff has drastically declined over the past 20 years. The best companies have made huge strides in productivity and technology; state capacity has deteriorated in almost all respects, from pandemic management to the ability to run infrastructure projects, hence the obscenity that is HS2. So much for the myth of the Rolls-Royce Civil Service.
In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, FA Hayek argued that the “worst get on top” in collectivist societies. This is exactly what is happening in Britain: with a few laudable exceptions, today’s civil servants are less competent than their predecessors, but have more power and an inflated sense of their own importance. Buoyed by the Blairite legal revolution that Brexit has only partly undone, and encouraged by the intellectual weakness of the Conservative Government, their psychology has shifted dangerously.
Rather than working for political masters, much of the bureaucracy now works with them, if not against them. The Civil Service, together with its allies in the quangocracy, all too often considers itself to be a separate branch of government in a US-style system of checks and balances, with a duty to “tell truth to power” (or more precisely, to elected MPs and ministers) and to use semi-constitutional laws (such as the Equalities Act, net zero commitments, and membership of the EHRC) as tools to enforce its agenda.
The Ministerial Code and other codes of conduct are leveraged to stymie democracy. Labour market rules and HR wokery (with their wilful mischaracterisation of legitimate requests and ordinary workings of hierarchical relationships as “bullying”) are weaponised, as in the case of Baroness Falkner, the great chairman of the equalities watchdog.
Ministers are catastrophically ill-equipped: they are parachuted into openly hostile departments such as the Home Office with a handful of youthful, under-paid advisers, and immediately placed at the mercy of Whitehall calendars and information flows. They can’t hire or fire, and anybody keen to take on the Left-liberal status quo is undermined by leaks and negative briefings, as we have seen in the case of Priti Patel and Suella Braverman.
It is easier for less brave or principled ministers to focus on “mastering their briefs”, as the mandarins love to put it, and become their departments’ spokesmen. Laughably, we still have Tory cabinet ministers defending this absurd pantomime: many feel the need to endlessly thank their “brilliant” and “hard-working” civil servants. It is a form of bureaucratic Stockholm syndrome.
Why can’t the Tories see through the technocrats’ incompetence? Since Liz Truss’s defenestration, Treasury and Bank of England orthodoxy have prevailed. The result? Growth is abysmal. Inflation remains far too high at 8.7 per cent, with core inflation going up, and the markets now expect interest rates to peak at 5.5 per cent. Gilt yields have surged almost all the way back to where they were during the LDI-panic that toppled Truss. So much for the “competence” of the “sensibles”. Why is nobody now talking of a “moron premium” on UK debt? Is it because it’s taboo to call out Bank governors and Treasury officials?
One man who gets it, and who has shown how centre-Right politicians can defy the Blob, is Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida, who is declaring his candidacy for the Republican nomination for US president.
As it immediately became obvious when I interviewed him, he is pioneering a new, more robust form of conservatism that recognises that winning elections and then tweaking a few laws isn’t enough to truly make a difference. Trump tried that, and shouted loudly, but achieved little. The Left has changed the rules of the game, and the Right must adapt or die. It has now become essential to reverse the Left-wing capture of public and private institutions to truly shift the culture in a more conservative direction.
DeSantis controls the apparatus of state in Florida. He realises that in a modern society political power is also exercised by state-funded institutions such as the universities, and by the private sector via woke capital. He sees that all these Left-wing power centres need to be confronted, or else victory at the ballot box means nothing, a lesson the Conservatives must urgently learn if they are ever to rule again.
So how can a future Tory Britain be more like Florida? It is madness that ministers have to act as guerrilla fighters parachuted behind enemy lines – and when a prime minister must do that, as Truss did, it cannot end well. The next Tory government will need to legislate to end the Northcote-Trevelyan Civil Service on its first day in office, and appoint new management teams on short-term, performance-related contracts to run every single government department and quango. These new teams would report directly to ministers, and take instructions from them. All would be contractually bound to deliver the Government’s agenda.
A change of this magnitude would require detailed long-term planning; the Tories should use their time in opposition to work on a blueprint to take over the state, draft omnibus legislation, and draw up a list of several thousand personnel to appoint, including private sector chief executives, entrepreneurs, economists, lawyers, bankers, turnaround specialists, management consultants and tech experts.
The next Tory government will also need to ensure that we end up with a drastically more ideologically diverse university, cultural and charitable sector. As DeSantis realised, simply preventing the cancellation of the last remaining non-Left wing holdouts isn’t enough: defeating wokery must become official policy across Government. The job of private firms should be to make money legally, not to engage in political campaigning. In a world where followers of Gramsci have seized control of virtually all institutions, winning elections or referenda isn’t enough. The blob must be defeated.
Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.