Sack Jeremy Heywood

By D. J. Webb

I do not have time for a long post today. But on the Brexit referendum, there is an important point to make. Regardless of whether you support remaining or leaving, the behaviour of the Civil Service has been disgraceful.

It would be possible to support either view on the referendum and still believe that we should have a politically neutral Civil Service. Indeed, I take the view that the neutrality of the Civil Service had become an accepted part of our constitution, part of the conventions of our public life, and that the failure of civil servants to observe neutrality is unlawful.

This has been a problem for some time. We have press officers in all departments who immediately “rebut” truthful criticism of their departments. I would argue that ministers and political parties should handle the lying rebuttals. We ought to dismiss all the media relations personnel in government, or at the very least reduce their role merely to the issuance of press releases updating the public on publication of data and such like, with no comment on politically controversial matters.

We find the Crown Prosecution Service and the DPP play an astonishing role in protecting civil servants from being held to account. Look at the way that the unlawful killing of De Menezes at point-blank range on the Tube did not lead to criminal charges against Cressida Dick, senior woman policeman, but instead a health and safety tribunal instead. What about the way in which the police at Hillsborough have for decades been protected? The doctors and nurses at Stafford hospital were told straightaway that after manslaughter of hundreds of patients, not one would lose his job, or even face a disciplinary investigation.

These people are allowed an apparently “independent” role in our politics, and were called upon to identify areas where powers could be recalled from Brussels. The Civil Service pretended to think about it, before reporting that all was fine and there were no powers that needed to come back. They are happy with things as they are, because of the large role for bureaucratic regulation afforded by European Union legislation to the UK Civil Service.

The Treasury and the Bank of England have been busy issuing lurid, and demonstrably false, propaganda on what would happen if the UK left the EU. Honestly, if people are prepared to believe them, then maybe we deserve not to be free? Think about it: if the world would end if we left the EU, we wouldn’t be having a vote on it. No government would allow a referendum that would be cataclysmic in its effects. Neither would we be joining the EU now if we weren’t already a member. The argument to remain boils down to the short-term disruptive effect of having to devise new arrangements: to argue we should never do anything disruptive amounts to saying we should never ever consider any large changes in any policy area.

I blame Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary, for allowing the politicization of the Civil Service. This reminds me of my email to his predecessor, Gus O’Donnell, complaining of the Civil Service’s politicization. On December 22nd, 2011, under the title “Gus O’Donnell – unelected politician”, I wrote (excerpted):

I welcome your impending departure as Cabinet Secretary, not least because you seem to have opposed David Cameron’s attempts to rein in civil service expenses. Who is in charge of the civil service? You or the Prime Minister? Have you forgotten [that] DC is minister for the civil service? You are not in fact the head of the civil service. I am prepared to accept you are a competent bureaucrat and as long as bureaucrats are prepared to accept political direction from elected governments, then effective government should be the result. During your time in the civil service, however, we have seen an increasing politicization of the civil service, which struts round as “the real government”. Your comments on the break up of the UK in the Telegraph are an example of a civil servant who is preening himself as an unelected politician. If you wish to make a foray into politics, why not stand for office? We no longer have accountable government in the UK. There is a vital need to get the civil service in line: they must do as they are told, [and] no more; they must stop giving interviews to the media; they must stop working for the interests of globalized government in contravention of their oaths of office and the laws against treason and sedition.

I received a reply from a minion:

You are correct that the Prime Minister is the Minister for the Civil Service. As Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, Gus reports to him. This relationship is set out in a number of documents, but I would refer you to the Cabinet Manual for a helpful summary of our constitutional arrangements.

I would argue against your assertion that the civil service is politicized or unaccountable. Like all civil servants, Gus is bound by the Civil Service Code and accountable to Ministers; and like all Accounting Officers, he is directly accountable to the Public Accounts Committee for public expenditure within his Department. You can read oral and written evidence he has submitted on various occasions to the PAC and other committees in Hansard. I would also suggest that you read more carefully his comment in the Telegraph on the Union: I cannot see how you could interpret this other than as objective and impartial fact.

It seems to me that Jeremy Heywood should not have allowed the Civil Service to function as a political party in the referendum, and that on June 24th he should be sacked for gross misconduct, and stripped of his knighthood and pension. Of course, the prime minister bears the greater responsibility, as minister for the Civil Service, and he should be shown the door pretty quickly too.



  • Well said, David. Though Heywood as an individual is probably a mere pawn.

    You’ve begun to understand who the “enemy class” are – about whom Sean has written so much (and mostly he’s right).

  • I knew (sort of) a number of these people at University; now, I guess, most of them are dead or retired. The most popular and topmost career choices were,in no special order (and you can make your own judgements then…)
    (1) The Civil Service
    (2) DHSS “administrative health trainee” (whatever that meant; I could not work it out at the time.)
    (3) The BBC
    (4) Merchant Banks (does anyone remember what noble institutions “Merchant Banks” were in the 60s/70s? No, of course…I thought not.)

    Most of the GramscoStaliNazi undergraduates went for the Civil service and the DHSS. Articulate and glib shallow bastards went for the BBC. The really really bright ones with fine qualities and often rather popular at parties, and often slightly “lower class” which is to say from “Private Schools”, went to Merchant Banks.

    Clever, hard-working grammar-school boys with no connections and no obvious popularity because they had pimples and glasses, went to work for private industry mostly. These ones have, I have checked, all just retired in time, on good pensions, saved just before Gordon Brown stole the capital and pissed it up the wall.

  • The Senior Civil Service need to be sacked en masse without compensation and their pensions confiscated.

  • I’ll have to think about this. An excellent article, but I’m not sure I agree. I’m not sure politicisation of the Senior Civil Service is undesirable.

  • Yes, just coming back to this, I don’t think it is realistic to expect civil servants to conduct their work in a non-political or non-politicised way. What they do is government and administrative work in a highly politicised context. I’m not even sure it’s a good thing for ‘democracy’ as it’s understood to have a non-political civil service, but in any case, I just think the whole Northcote-Trevelyan ethos of neutral, impartial officialdom is a myth.

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