Civil service

Why are so many young people ‘asexual’?

Who could have foreseen that half a century after the sexual revolution we’d be facing its exact opposite: an asexual revolution? There’s a crisis of fertility across the West, with birth-rates and sperm counts in free fall. But this isn’t only about microplastics, oestrogen in the water or tight underpants. It’s also that the children of the West are choosing to have less sex – even no sex. A growing proportion actually identify as asexual, and rather than wait to see if the absence of lust is just a reasonable, youthful response to all the porn around in schools, they announce their asexuality solemnly to their friends and family. It

Rory Stewart is a fish out of water

Rory Stewart is one of that almost extinct species in the modern Conservative party, a one-nation Tory. He is also – or was (until Boris Johnson kicked him out) – a politician with hinterland. He had been places and done things before getting himself elected in his late thirties, entering parliament in 2010. Disillusion rapidly set in: Too much of our time was absorbed in gossip about the promotion of one colleague or the scandal engulfing another. Even four weeks in, I sensed more impotence, suspicion, envy, resentment, claustrophobia and schadenfreude than I had seen in any other profession. It is made clear to him from the outset that rebellion

Is the government heading for a court defeat?

14 min listen

The Cabinet Office has officially triggered a judicial review against the Covid Inquiry – but is this a misstep, if eventually they will lose their legal case against it? On the episode, James Heale talks to Katy Balls and the Institute for Government’s Catherine Haddon. Produced by Cindy Yu.

The battle with the Blob

Most prime ministers fall out with the civil service at some point. David Cameron attacked the ‘enemies of enterprise’; Tony Blair spoke of ‘the scars on my back’ from battling the public sector. But the premiership of Boris Johnson brought relations to a new low, with prorogation and partygate fuelling paranoia on both sides. Under Rishi Sunak, tensions have been reignited by Dominic Raab’s resignation and the Cabinet Office’s attempt to hand over Johnson’s pandemic diaries to the Covid inquiry. For some Conservatives, the mandarins involved in these dramas are the embodiment of ‘the Blob’. The etymology of this term shows how Tory criticisms of the civil service have changed

The civil service’s exercise in navel-gazing

Are you happy in your work? In 37 years of journalism I don’t remember once being asked that question by my bosses. Nor did I expect to be. But in the civil service there is a bureaucratic machine to make sure employees are asked once a year if everything is all right, dearie. At unpublicised cost, the People Survey invites penpushers to complain. Guess what – they do. Three mandarins explained this time-consuming exercise to the Commons public administration select committee. They were: Alex Chisholm, the civil service’s chief operating officer; Fiona Ryland, ‘government chief people officer’; Dr Claudia Roscini, head of the civil service People Survey team. The survey

Could Sue Gray-gate backfire on Keir Starmer?

17 min listen

The Cabinet Office has published its written statement into the resignation of Sue Gray, stating that it has given a ‘confidential assessment’ to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) about whether she broke civil service rules in taking up a job from Keir Starmer while still a senior civil servant. On the episode, Cindy Yu talks to Katy Balls and the UK In A Changing Europe’s Jill Rutter, who is also a former civil servant, about the implications for the civil service if Gray is found to have broken the rules. Produced by Cindy Yu.

Is time running out for Simon Case?

12 min listen

It’s been reported that more damaging messages sent by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case during the pandemic will surface in the Daily Telegraph’s Lockdown Files, leading to speculation over whether he will still be in position by the time of the King’s coronation. Cindy Yu talks to Katy Balls and James Heale about whether the Cabinet Secretary will soon have to step down. Produced by Cindy Yu.

Does the ‘anti-growth coalition’ run the Treasury?

‘Permanent revolution’ is the on dit in Whitehall these days – and what it means is that the Truss administration U-turns so often the whole machinery of government is constantly spinning round on its axis. The latest volte-face is the decision to appoint James Bowler, a 20-year establishment veteran, as Permanent Secretary to the Treasury. The Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, declared himself ‘delighted to welcome James back to the Treasury,’ which is causing a few chuckles in SW1. The joke in Westminster today is apparently that the anti-growth coalition actually runs the Treasury It’s well-known that Kwarteng’s plan was to shake up the Treasury. Bowler represents precisely the sort of orthodox

Kwarteng axes top Treasury civil servant

Liz Truss’s shake-up of Whitehall continues. Her Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng has sacked Tom Scholar as permanent secretary to the Treasury – with the Cabinet Secretary to begin the recruitment process to find his successor. Announcing the news in a government press release, Scholar made clear the decision was made by Kwarteng: ‘The Chancellor decided it was time for new leadership at the Treasury, and so I will be leaving with immediate effect’. What message does it send to the markets? There’s a risk that it suggests turbulence The new Chancellor did at least offer some parting words of praise – describing Scholar as ‘a dedicated and exceptional civil servant’ who had provided

James Kirkup

Boris should keep copying Blair

Having written here at least once before that Boris Johnson is the heir to Blair, my first thought on the Prime Minister’s tax-to-spend announcement on the NHS and social care is a petty one: I told you so. The striking thing about making the Boris-Blair comparison is how resistant some people are to it. Among Bozza fans on the Leave-voting right, there is often fury at the suggestion that their man, the hero of Brexit, is anything like the Europhile they used to call ‘Bliar’. On the left, there is an almost pathological determination to believe that a Tory PM must, by definition, be a small-state free-marketeer intent on starving and

Will an Office for the Prime Minister work?

Boris Johnson now leads an interim administration. Within a fortnight, we will have a new occupant of No. 10. What will Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss find waiting for them in Downing Street? And what might the machinery of government mean for their ability to deliver on their campaign promises? The first thing that will strike the new Prime Minister is Johnson’s internal reforms. The creation of an ‘Office of the Prime Minister’ is potentially the most significant, although it was announced late in Johnson’s premiership and it remains to be seen how seriously it has been taken. On arrival, the new Prime Minister may therefore be equally entitled to

Who governs Britain? Not ministers, it seems

Who governs Britain? It’s a dangerous question, as Ted Heath learned half a century ago. But while he was concerned with untrammelled unions, ministers today must contend with another unelected cadre calling the shots. The difference is that now, like in so many horror movies, the calls are coming from inside the house.  The Telegraph reports that the Ministry of Justice has appointed a ‘transgender employee support officer’. That in itself is hardly surprising. What does stand out is the reason for the appointment. According to an email seen by the Telegraph, prison service director general Phil Copple wrote to staff last Friday to say: Following the decision last year for

Who would join Boris’s No. 10?

Munira Mirza’s resignation over Boris Johnson’s refusal to withdraw his Savile barb at Keir Starmer led to Downing Street bringing forward the departure of various senior staff. Johnson’s shadow whipping operation were keen to emphasise that these were the very changes to his operation that he had promised Tory MPs on Monday night. Leaving aside the fact that these departures looked rather chaotic, the real challenge will come with whether Johnson can persuade anyone to come into Downing Street. As I say in the Times today, the failure to get Lynton Crosby to take on a formal role shows how difficult it will be to get the kind of big hitters

Letters: Our broken civil service

Beyond the party Sir: Rod Liddle is spot-on in arguing that the attitudes revealed by ‘partygate’ extend to senior civil servants (‘The truth about that No. 10 party’, 15 January). He gets the extent wrong by tarring all public-sector workers with the same brush, which would include all NHS workers, and is not true. What is true is that the attitude has indeed spread in the civil service well beyond the public school and Oxbridge-educated elite. I spent a couple of years seconded to a department of state, trying to make progress on implementing reforms that had been approved by parliament. I failed. I was eventually blackballed for speaking truth

The truth about that No. 10 party

People seem surprised and a little doubting that the Prime Minister is incapable of remembering if he attended a party in his own back garden in May 2020. It does not come as much of a shock to me, seeing as he has difficulty remembering how many children he has. Beneath that albino mop resides a brain comprising plasma in a perpetual turbulent flux, like you get in one of those tokamaks used in the pursuit of nuclear fusion energy. Except Boris’s brain does not have the correct-strength magnets to hold it all in place, just a skull. As a consequence he possesses no judgment and nothing in the way

Was the civil service compromised by the Salmond affair?

The fallout from David Davis’s intervention in the Alex Salmond affair is all about the messages. The texts which the veteran Tory says he was given by a ‘whistleblower’ contain disturbing conversations between senior SNP and Scottish Government staffers. They raise questions about party involvement in a government investigation, the alleged ‘interference’ of Nicola Sturgeon’s chief of staff, and what the First Minister knew and when. The motivations behind these exchanges will be picked over by those convinced Salmond was the victim of a conspiracy, those convinced the Scottish Government fouled up but had good intentions, and a small smattering of Scots patiently waiting for the Holyrood inquiry to put

Is Britain a nation in fear of safetyism?

It should come as no surprise that Britain’s city centres remain, in the words of CBI chief Carolyn Fairbairn, ‘ghost towns’, and nor is it a shock to hear a civil service union boss shoot down Boris Johnson’s plea for public sector workers to head back to the office. Safety first, said the union man, echoing the caution of his teaching counterparts. As Trevor Kavanagh wrote in the Sun last week, Britain is ‘a scaredy-cat nation of masked hypochondriacs who won’t leave home for fear of dropping dead’. A poll last month bore this out, revealing that while two thirds of workers in France, Spain and Italy were back at

Can Simon Case restore stability to the heart of government?

Boris Johnson does not get everything wrong. The appointment of Simon Case to be head of the civil service at such a young age is bold and imaginative. Those who have observed his performance in senior roles all seem to regard him highly. But there could be two problems, both related to his youth: he has never run a large organisation and he has never really experienced failure. By the time that most officials and politicians reach his level of seniority, they usually know what is meant by ‘after such knowledge, what forgiveness.’ They are aware that what goes up can also come down; that an idea which, on the

Government jobs don’t have to be in the capital

Boris Johnson has put a huge amount of stock in persuading reluctant civil servants to return to their desks in Whitehall. His campaign this week to get more people back to the office was tinged with the suggestion that those who were slow to return might be in danger of losing their jobs. This divided the cabinet, with Matt Hancock pointedly suggesting that he was happy with many in his department continuing to work from home. Never one to miss the opportunity for a battle with Westminster, Nicola Sturgeon suggested that the government’s campaign to get people back to the office amounted to ‘intimidation’. But why not see the slow

PM responds to Mark Sedwill’s resignation

Boris Johnson has responded to the resignation of Mark Sedwill, the now former Cabinet Secretary. The full text of The Prime Minister’s handwritten note is below Dear Mark, Over the last few years I have had direct experience of the outstanding service that you have given to the government and to the country as a whole. You took over as Cabinet Secretary in tragic circumstances, and then skilfully navigated us politicians through some exceptionally choppy water: a change of premiership, an election, then Brexit, followed by the crisis of Covid-19, where you were instrumental in drawing up the plan the whole country has by now followed effectively to suppress the