Posts Tagged ‘Department of Social Security’

Vox Political: Amazon Boss to Get DWP Directorship

February 4, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political today posted this piece from the Guardian, commenting on Margaret Hodge’s disgust at Amazon’s boss of Chinese operations getting a directorship at the DWP: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/04/amazon-bosss-dwp-appointment-is-disgusting-but-when-did-government-departments-start-having-directors/ In his comment, he asks a very pertinent question: since when did the DWP, or the Civil Service as a whole, start having directorships? Traditionally, the heads of the civil service were secretaries over various descriptions, undersecretaries, private secretaries, personal private secretaries, etc. Secretaries by the bushel, secretaries by the bucketful. But no directors. So, he asks, is this indication that the Gentleman Ranker, Ian ‘Snollygaster’ Duncan Smith, wants to privatise another section of the DWP, or indeed the whole government department?

It’s a good question. IDS – just one vowel away from ‘AIDS’, and nearly as poisonous – and the rest of the Tories really do seem to think that privatising everything is the solution. They took this idea over from the Libertarians in America, who want just about everything privatised, even the courts. All in the name of small government. I don’t think even IDS is so stupid that he wants to go as far as completely privatising the justice system, but he and they do seem to follow the libertarian line about privatising the police force. This policy is based on the idea that private corporations are automatically more efficient and more effective than state operated enterprises or organisations. Even when it’s been proved again and yet again that they aren’t. The Civil Service was originally considered unsuitable for privatisation, so they did the next best thing. They quasi-privatised part of it, but separating the Department of Health from the Department of Social Security, and turned the latter into the Benefits Agency. Now it seems that they want to privatise it completely, at least piecemeal.

As for the title of ‘director’, there’s an element of vanity in there. IDS, Cameron and the others have all entered public service from business, and therefore don’t seem to be satisfied with simply having the title and job description as ‘public servants’. No, they want to be seen as hot-shot directors, not secretaries. So directors they must be, even if it’s completely inappropriate. Way back in the 1990s, a similar rebranding occurred in the Department of Trade and Industry. This wasn’t good enough for the responsible minister at the time, who insisted on calling it, ‘The Department of Enterprise’, in line with Thatcherite Yuppie ideology. Well, yuppies have come and gone. A lot of them finally gave up the game when the steam ran out of the part of the Thatcher Revolution, and New Labour came to power, only to carry on her legacy in a slightly less noxious form. But as the idea of directorships in the DWP shows, it’s still there. And it’s entirely inappropriate.

Directors are the heads of private companies, which are driven by the profit motive. The aim of private enterprise is primarily to make money, not to provide a service. The role of the civil service, on the contrary, is to provide a service in spheres which are outside the applicability of the profit motive. It’s why there are just so many regulations prescribing the correct conduct of civil servants and what constitutes corruption. They aren’t there to enrich themselves at the expense of the state or its citizens. They are there to serve the public. This latter point is important. It was imported into the Civil Service ethos by the Trevelyan in the 19th century. His idea of moral, responsible service by state officials was largely based on the old Stoic ideal of service to the state. Trevelyan himself was an utter b*stard in some respects. He had absolutely zero sympathy for the victims of the Irish Potato Famine, and did not want them to be given any relief in their most dire need. It’s an episode which has cast a terrible shadow over subsequent relations between Britain and Ireland ever since. But Trevelyan’s reform of the Civil Service did create an ethos of efficient, responsible public service. IDS’ creation of directorships threatens to undermine this, and throw the whole institution back to the corruption of the 18th century and previously, when officeholders believed that they had an absolute right to exploit their position to the full to enrich themselves.

And in that case, ideology will have come full circle, and the Tories will have gone back to their roots. Modern Neoliberalism has much of its ideological roots in 19th century radicalism. 19th century radicals generally wanted small, cheap, efficient government, free of the webs of patronage and corruption that stifled the economy and prevented individuals from developing their own talents and being rewarded by the fruits of their energy and enterprise. Thatcher and her Yuppy crew largely took power by muttering a lot of nonsense about ‘meritocracy’. It informs the very title of Norman Tebbit’s autobiography, ‘Upwardly Mobile’.

But for all that they mouth Neoliberal clich├ęs about enterprise, efficiency, meritocracy and self-reliance, the Tories aren’t motivated by a desire to increase social mobility, or limit the stifling power of an hereditary ruling class, like the 19th century Liberals. Cameron, Osbo, IDS and their cabinet are toffs. They are the stifling hereditary ruling class. Social mobility under New Labour had all but ceased. Under Cameron it’s stopped completely. And they’re determined to hold on to power, and oppress everyone else. Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd gave the game away in the Times in the 1980s when he loudly hailed Maggie Thatcher as bringing about a ‘social restoration’ of the old country house elite. The only difference now is that the ruling elite are corporations and their managers, rather than an agricultural aristocracy. But the ethos remains of a ruling class, which regards the state and its institutions as their instruments with which to govern and plunder, rather than to serve the greater national good.

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