George Eustice: Loyal civil servants are good for morale

Liam Fox could always be relied on to go the extra mile for the team.

George Eustice: Loyal civil servants are good for morale
George Eustice: Loyal civil servants are good for morale

When I worked in the Conservative Press Office, if the party was on the back foot, some politicians would bolt but Fox would always go before the cameras to defend a difficult wicket when needed. It's why he made a good defence secretary. Our armed forces could rest assured that they had someone tenaciously batting for them. Paradoxically, the quality that made him reliable might have also made him susceptible to pushing the limits of ministerial guidelines because he would have been so focused on getting the job done.

His resignation comes as reports of tensions among civil servants in the Department for Education surfaced in the Sunday papers. Both episodes raise questions about the way Britain runs its civil service. People often bemoan that politicians are all the same once they get in power. Perhaps that's because, as Sir Humphrey might say, while ministers come and go, the civil service advisers remain the same.

The US has a system where a change of government also leads to a change in the administration, where you build a team of reliable people who care what happens and support and understand what you are trying to achieve. By contrast ministers in Britain are expected to work with some people who actually support the opposition party. It's no way to run a country because, when things go wrong, a minister needs people who will bust a gut to save the day, rather than people who might struggle to conceal a smirk.

I don't support a full switch to the US system but we could do better. I think it's time to make more positions in the civil service time-limited to the life of the administration so that when a new government takes office it can bring in new people and exercise its political authority. It would avoid the confrontation caused by expanding the number of special advisers because the positions would be integrated within the civil service team rather than run in parallel. But it would prevent tension and poor morale and be more honest by recognising that politicians are not all the same.

George Eustice is Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and a former press secretary to David Cameron

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