Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the author looks 'behind the curtain' at the way power is really exercised. 'Civil servants advise and ministers decide' is a time-honoured code designed to reassure the integrity of the democratic system. But from Covid to Ofqual policy shots are increasingly called by technocrats to whom the political class seem entirely beholden. How much confidence can we place in the doctrine of ministerial responsibility "when the structure and practice of public service undermine its reality."
He goes on, "In quiet times, such arm’s-length arrangements can work. Ministerial meddling is reduced; experts protect the standards. The trouble is that whenever things get difficult, the Government comes under pressure to intervene and the non-ministerial departments somehow vanish....[they] become closed little worlds, invested with great power, hard to hold to account, fiercely unwilling to take blame."
More worryingly, not only do officials seem to vanish when a policy hits the rocks, "it is increasingly common for a department to declare its own view on an issue which goes beyond government policy (and sometimes even contradicts it)." Examples proliferate from Education and Defence to the Home Office and Culture, Media and Sport.
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