Are the Government’s civil service dealings its first PR blunder?

We are now a little clearer whether the Government is politicising the Civil Service. This week we got chapter and verse on its appointments so far. As an ex-civil servant who was said to have been politicised, I find it hilarious that a Government which floated to office on an anti-sleaze tide has, within a month, been accused of corrupting the system.

We are now a little clearer whether the Government is politicising

the Civil Service. This week we got chapter and verse on its

appointments so far. As an ex-civil servant who was said to have been

politicised, I find it hilarious that a Government which floated to

office on an anti-sleaze tide has, within a month, been accused of

corrupting the system.



But is there anything more to it than good, clean political fun?



Well, Sir Michael Bett, Civil Service First Commissioner and guardian of

its impartial recruitment, has waved a yellow card at Prime Minister

Tony Blair. He says he would be very concerned if a horde of politicos

were appointed without fair and open competition or if there was an

American-style clear out at the top. He has rationed No 10 to three

imports. No more, he says, without Parliamentary approval.



It is interesting that Sir Michael has felt it necessary to open his

mouth. But what has actually happened? So far only two political animals

have taken Civil Service posts in No 10. Jonathan Powell, a former

diplomat, has become a sort of fudged principal private secretary, Mr

Blair’s chief adviser, and Alastair Campbell his press secretary. Both

had the same jobs in opposition. An Order in Council was necessary to

give them authority over pukka civil servants.



I suspect that there is much more angst over Mr Powell than Mr

Campbell.



Mr Powell has taken the plum job for high-flying civil servants whereas

political press secretaries, at least in Labour Governments, are nothing

new. The last was the old Mirror man, Joe Haines, who served Harold

Wilson.



What is much more interesting, given Sir Michael’s beady eye, is how

many hangers-on are being rewarded with jobs in Government as so-called

political or special advisers at taxpayers’ expense. It is now clear

that Labour is much more of a jobs-for-the-boys Government than the

Tories were - 53 compared with 38 at salaries ranging from pounds 24,349

to pounds 73,484.



These include two party political appointees in the No 10 press office

as well as Mr Campbell.



It is a scandal that any political adviser should be paid from public

funds, but that point was conceded by the Conservatives long ago. When

we get the final advisers’ salaries bill, it seems likely that Labour

will be more generous in rewarding its supporters with public money than

the Tories were. But, leaving aside No 10 and the Treasury, it is

generally sticking to the Tory rule of no more than two special advisers

per department.



Thus, on present evidence, it is not possible to argue that Labour is

politicising the Civil Service.



But this rather sanctimonious Government is looking less than squeaky

clean. Is this its first PR failure?



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