No, Minister! Crisis In The Civil Service

Battle of Ideas festival 2022, Saturday 15 October, Church House, London

Recorded at the Battle of Ideas festival 2022 on Saturday 15 October at Church House, London.


The UK’s Civil Service has long been referred to as a well-oiled machine that ranks among the best in the world. More recently, however, the Civil Service has come under intense criticism for its alleged insubordination, embrace of ‘woke’ causes and enthusiasm for working from home at the expense of public service.

Moves to house failed asylum seekers in Rwanda received fierce internal resistance from Home Office civil servants, who questioned the morality of the policy despite its apparent popularity and inclusion in the Conservative Party manifesto. Politicians of all stripes have reported on similar moves by civil servants, but this seems especially true in the aftermath of the vote to leave the EU. Senior civil servants have been accused of caution and groupthink, preventing them from embracing the opportunities presented by Brexit and political realignment.

The attorney general, Suella Braverman, recently spoke up against civil servants undertaking extensive ‘diversity and inclusion’ training during working hours, the allegedly contestable content of such courses, and the ever-expanding HR machine that encourages it. In the same vein, critics point out that gender ideology and radical identity politics are seemingly spread unopposed in the Civil Service, despite polling showing majority opposition to these ideas among the public.

However, in response to an accusation from Liz Truss that Foreign Office officials’ hostility to Israel verges on anti-Semitism, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, argued that ‘throwing around such unfounded inflammatory accusations illustrates a lack of leadership’. Others have argued that the Civil Service is being scapegoated for politicians’ own failings.

Is the Whitehall machine broken beyond repair or are civil servants being victimised in an unfair blame-game? Have citizens lost control of the public institutions that their taxes pay for? Will moving the Civil Service out of London help address this? Is it even possible to provide impartial advice in highly polarised political climates? And what’s wrong with civil servants using their skills and experience to challenge the decisions of politicians?

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Nick Busvine OBE
consultant; founding partner, Herminius Holdings Ltd; advisory board member, Briefings for Britain; Town Councillor, Sevenoaks; former diplomat, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Caroline Ffiske
co-founder and spokesperson, Conservatives for Women

Eric Kaufmann
professor of politics, Birkbeck College, University of London; Advisory Council member, Free Speech Union; author, The Political Culture of Young Britain and The Politics of the Culture Wars in Contemporary Britain

Max Wind-Cowie
co-author, A Place for Pride; former head, Progressive Conservatism Project, Demos; commentator

Alastair Donald
co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; convenor, Living Freedom; author, Letter on Liberty: The Scottish Question