To bring about real political change, the Civil Service must be reformed, argues Robert Bates. 

The Rutnam fiasco has one upside, and one upside alone. Yes, last week’s papers – infected with the rutnamvirus– were duller than Yorkshire flood water; and last week’s parliamentary debate on the matter would have undoubtedly attracted fewer viewers than even the BBC’s Brexitcast, but finally (finally!) the shroud has been lifted!

The court of public opinion now has the chance to pass judgement on the system that’s really lurking underneath. To pass verdict on the true intentions of Whitehall mandarins that too often call the shots. For as long as I can recall, legitimate concerns over the impartiality of the Civil Service have been rebuffed, or met with a fawning sermon on just how fantastic our Permanent Secretaries truly are.

Brexit will for the foreseeable future remain the case study of this sad fact. Civil Service Jacobites, fighting a rearguard action and unable to accept that the country has chosen a different course, took complete control of the wheel during May’s stint as PM, and are still attempting to backseat drive now that Boris is on the clutch. The problem, for those of us hoping to address this malfunction, is that it unfurls in incognito mode – making legitimate concerns hard to project to large audiences.

However, the very public, and very ugly, way in which this is playing out shows to the broader population that fundamental dynamic of Westminster – in all its glory! In the one corner we have the democratically elected insurgent, on the side of the people, and hoping to bring about comprehensive reform to our immigration system. In her way at every turn is a permanent civil service that is inoculated with a certain worldview; shielded from the wrath of public opinion, and therefore deaf to it. Presented with this equation, the British public are destined to reach one clear conclusion; for real political change, the Civil Service must be reformed. Philip Rutman by choosing to enact his self-styled martyrdom live on the BBC has done us all a favour in this regard.

For how can it be that a politician elected with a personal majority of nearly 25,000, and attempting to implement the manifesto of a Government with more votes than Blair in ‘97 and Thatcher in ‘83, faces such huge hurdles from her own civil servants? It defies the very premise of Representative Government if those hoping to ‘represent’ the views of the public must ultimately bend the knee to a couple of thousand career bureaucrats.

In your workplace, if you’d been entrusted by 14 million people to complete a spreadsheet by 5pm, or to put some paper in the photocopier, then you’d feel a certain sense of responsibility to get it darn-well done – whatever might get in your way. It is a testament to the Home Secretary’s sense of duty, and her desire to deliver on her promises, that feathers have been ruffled. For she will undoubtedly be facing stiff resistance to her set aims. From mountains of arcane briefing papers to a barrage of irrelevant morning meetings, be in doubt that every trick in the book is being deployed. Patel, by refusing to be blown off course, has failed to play the game on their terms.

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