Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 26, July 11, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Conflict Between Government and Civil Service

Head of the Civil Service and National Security Adviser Steps Down

Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service Sir Mark Sedwill, who is also the National Security Adviser to the Cabinet, announced that he will step down in September after tensions with Boris Johnson's inner circle, in particular his Special Adviser Dominic Cummings, and Home Secretary and Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove.

Sedwill has been seen as standing in the way of the changes being pushed by these personalities, with Cummings attempting to alter the nature of and the government's relations with Whitehall, and Gove restructuring the government departments. His departure is the removal of one more barrier to the reorganisation of the arrangements of state around the concentration of political power in the inner circle of the Prime Minister.

Tensions between government and the Civil Service have been growing, and the exit of Sedwill comes after a number of recent resignations of senior civil servants, such as those of Sir Philip Rutnam and Simon McDonald. Rutnam is suing the Home Office for unfair dismissal.

FDA is the trade union for UK senior and middle management civil servants and public service professionals . Its general secretary Dave Penman alleged that a campaign had been waged to undermine Sedwill:

"If Sir Mark no longer has the confidence of the Prime Minister, for whatever reason, that is one thing. It can be dealt with in a grown-up way, finding a solution that suits both parties, rather than excluding someone who has dedicated their life to public service and has excelled at every role they've been asked to fill.

"Instead, No.10 - or those around it - has sought to undermine Sir Mark and the leadership of the civil service, with a series of anonymous briefings against him over many months. Not only is it a self-defeating and corrosive tactic, it's also a cowardly one, safe in the knowledge that those who are briefed against are unable to publicly respond.

"How would any potential candidate for Cabinet Secretary judge their prospective employers, given how the current cadre of leaders has been treated by them?"

"Whatever emerges as fact from the series of briefings that have sought to undermine Sir Mark's position, this government will emerge weaker as a result," he said. The campaign of briefings "undermines the ability of government to deliver".

"If you're the successor to Sir Mark, are you going to want to work there? Are you going to say, 'that's the kind of viper's nest that I'm looking to go into the moment I might disagree with them?' It's really self-defeating."

It is further being pointed out that his position of National Security Adviser will be taken over by current European adviser David Frost and chief Brexit negotiator, in a move seen as significant in that it will politicise a role conventionally occupied by civil servants.

Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds tabled an urgent question to the Home Secretary on the appointment of senior civil service positions, and that of Frost in particular.

In response, Gove said that the roles of National Security Adviser and Cabinet Secretary should be separately occupied, as "in previous administrations". He stated that the role could be "a political rather than necessarily civil service appointment" and it was for the Prime Minister to decide who fills it.

Thomas-Symonds questioned where this leaves the accountability of the National Security Adviser and stated his view that politicising a role that is to give "objective, and at times challenging, advice" was "dangerous territory".

Former Prime Minister Theresa May also stepped into the fray, labelling Frost "a political appointee with no proven experience in national security".

British representative democracy, where what is represented is the person of state that assumes the authority to act supposedly in the name of the people, arose out of the conditions of civil war in the 1600s. This was a war between the various competing interests of sections of the wealthy classes, and between those classes as a whole and the masses of the people who had their own opposing interests and demanded a role in decision-making.

In the present, the arrangements have descended into the cartel party system, where the parties have become part of the state apparatus itself, acting as the gatekeepers to power. This system is itself in crisis, having degenerated into factions jostling for position, while the clamour for a say over the matters that affect their lives is again rising from the people. The arrangements are breaking down, and civil war is now raising its head again as these contradictions sharpen.

In the current state of the system, not only do parties come to power in electoral coups, but political factions usurp power through coups within these parties. Boris Johnson and his circle came to power in a such a coup within the Conservative Party last year after the failure of Theresa May's attempt to either hold the party together or maintain control over Parliament.

Johnson's faction inherited power initially through the deliberate engineering of a constitutional crisis last autumn, a crisis created by the breaking of taboos such as the wielding of prerogative powers to get rid of dissenting voices, and the expulsion of much the party's old guard. Johnson's faction finally gained overall power in an electoral coup at the end of the year.

In these conditions, governance is no longer about upholding the rule of law, making reasonable accommodations, balancing interests, and linking the state and civil society. Talk of expressing and acting according to the popular will is pure pretence, increasingly seen through as people cry Not in Our Name! The balance has been completely tipped by powerful international oligarchies whose interests are what is really represented by the person of state. The public authority at every level is ever more the exercise of arbitrary power.

These are shifting conditions, and the factions of the ruling elite are constantly seeking new arrangements. The state is devouring itself as political factions and various parts of the existing arrangements contend for control. Meanwhile, no alternative is permitted. That is because the alternative is one in which the working people themselves are the new social force in control, who no longer look to some other force or figure for authority but themselves constitute the authority and decide matters directly.

The alternative means that those who currently deprive the people from power will themselves be deprived from power. The desperation to prevent this alternative from taking root is creating political chaos, for which the answer is being sought in the police powers and the rearrangement of the state around the wielding of those powers. This is the situation within which all must be united in fighting to defend the rights of all and bringing about the alternative that will guarantee those rights.


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