Re: Yes Prime Minister
@BOFH in training
@Dr Paul Taylor
“Yes Minister” is responsible for the greatest changes in the relationship between politicians and the civil service. The Blair administration of 1997 wanted to change the basis of the civil service from a neutral service to the Crown to a politicised service responsible only to ministers. Blair in effect wanted the US system, whereby the incoming government brings in its own executive. It was very apparent that they had absorbed all the programmes lessons and were terrified of the potential power of the “Sir Humphries”. This was evident by the many rallies held by the incoming ministers of Government Departments for their staff, and their barbed comments about not being outdone by Sir Humphrey. I, and several hundred others, had to suffer John Prescott at the Methodist Central Hall Westminster. The civil service was/is obliged to provide unbiased advice which, in practice, meant that the negative aspects of any policy had to be fully explained. Yes, this could be used to slow down or stop policies, but Ministers had to be made aware of all issues. Obstructionism can be overcome but requires knowledge, skills and management – in Yes Minister, Hacker comes out on top more times than many remember. Blair’s failure to change the remit of the Civil Service had two main consequences. The Cabinet Office was expanded to have tentacles in all other Government departments, and was staffed with more political advisors (political advisors saturated individual departments as well). New posts such as “Chief of staff” appeared. There was an early episode of Yes Prime Minister where Sir Humphrey explains to Hacker that as Prime Minister he no longer has any power to make detailed policy as he no longer runs a department – he has to rely on others. The second change was to make performance related pay compulsory from the top down. This meant that an agreed list of things to be done by set dates had to be met in order to get an annual pay increase. The consequence of that was that you just got on with what you are told and if you realised that the policy you were implementing was faulty, you didn’t stop it because failure to complete the given task resulted in no pay rise. If the outcome was bad, so what, it wasn’t your problem as long as the set task was completed.
In my view, these are the reasons many projects have rumbled on when they should have been abandoned and terminated. Of course, the expanded Cabinet office and performance pay have been inherited, and used, by several governments of both parties since 1997.
Boris is not one to get bothered with detail, but that is no excuse for him being involved with Partygate. As a manager, he should have said something and stopped it. BUT the senior civil servant running the Cabinet Office should also have been held responsible but this individual seems to have got away scot-free.