“Nothing To Do With Me”, Did You Say, IDS? Well Then You’re Still In For The Chop
August 24, 2015
by Martin Odoni
You know, since at least the 1970’s it has been unfashionable to say this, but I sometimes feel sorry for Civil Servants, even the ones in Whitehall. They get a very bad rap, thanks primarily to anti-statist propaganda, which often attempts to portray them as officious, pedantic, obstructionist, long-winded and over-privileged. Not entirely untrue of course, but it is more of a generalised stereotype than a fair assessment. Sir Humphrey Appleby has a lot to answer for.
But I feel a further pang of sympathy for the Civil Service in the way that this reputation has turned them into the plausible scapegoat-of-first-choice when a politician has made an undiluted horlicks of a policy plan.
News broke last week that the Department Of Work & Pensions has been publishing fictitious stories and made-up quotations about ex-benefits claimants, who do not even exist, going on to do really well after being sanctioned. So the Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, AKA CVFNNL (“CV From Never-Never Land“), is in trouble for the umpteenth time for telling flagrant lies to defend the sanctions culture he has created. I for one am struggling to think of a single occasion over the last five years when an attempt by Duncan-Smith to justify his work has not proven to be a lie, or at least a desperate denial of plain reality.
Finally, Duncan-Smith has come forward today to comment on the fake stories, making a rigorous attempt to distance himself from them. He has insisted that he knew nothing about them, and that they were nothing to do with him. He said that the fake stories are under investigation, but appeared to be meant as “an example of the kind of advice we give and ended up going out as a quote which was quite peculiar and quite wrong.”
Oh, so it seems that the Civil Servants are the ones who got it wrong, and the guy giving the instructions is completely innocent again.
Now, it is quite doubtful enough, if all this were the case, that Duncan-Smith would wait almost a week to put his denials-of-involvement into the media, and still further that he would publicise this rather tall explanation for what happened while it is still being investigated. But even if every word is, for about the first time in his career, the truth, it is not really much of a defence. The rules of Ministerial Responsibility are quite clear on this. As the Minister of the Department, IDS is its public face. He takes the credit for everybody else’s work when things go well at the DWP – abstract concept though such an eventuality may be – and he must equally take the blame when things go wrong.
As long as he is Work & Pensions Secretary, Duncan-Smith is responsible for what the Civil Servants in his department do, and part of his job is to make sure that they do not embark on any ‘policy-initiatives’ without his approval. What he is describing is not just an error-of-implementation of one of his policies, it is a Public Relations initiative that the Civil Servants dreamt up themselves and put into action without him even being informed about it.
NOTE: I am not saying I believe any of this, I am only going along with it for the sake of argument.
If Civil Servants are really behaving in such a brazen fashion in the DWP, and I am not convinced for one moment that they are, it means Iain Duncan-Smith has lost control over the Department, not just at an administrative level, but even at a policy level. Controlling the Department at a policy level is the bare minimum of his job description, and so this proves once and for all that he really is not up to the task; especially given this does not appear to be the first time it has happened, without him apparently cottoning onto it.
In short, whether Iain Duncan-Smith was behind the campaign of lies – and let us not forget that he has a mighty long history in that particular field – or he really was completely innocent of it, he has to go. He is either deceitful to a degree that is unworthy of the title ‘Right Honourable’, or he is not sufficiently competent a leader to head up a department. One way or the other, he is unfit for his purpose.
So, folks, if you have not already done so, please sign this.
ETA: It’s been recommended to me that I should share this link to the official Government website as well, as it is a petition that MPs will not be allowed to ignore if it gets over one hundred thousand signatures. Nod of acknowledgement to Andrew Bunting.