If civil servants can’t follow the policies of government, they shouldn’t be in their job

It’s not for civil servants to decide what policies ministers are allowed to enact


A pro-Palestine protest leaves the Department of Business and Trade in Old Admiralty Building, central London. ,The protest organised by London for a Free Palestine is calling for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Picture date: Thursday March 28, 2024.

April 05, 2024 11:38

Even today, well over 40 years since I lived with my parents, I have no idea how my father voted.

We had all kinds of intense political discussions, but he never tried to make me think in a certain way – only to make sure I did think. Sometimes I used to drive him mad with my naïve views. But still, even though I had an idea where he put his x when it was election time, I never actually knew.

That’s because he was a civil servant. A senior one, as it happens, and he took his job very seriously. His role, he knew, wasn’t to hawk his own views around, it was to advise ministers dispassionately, using the evidence available and apply his intellect – and boy did he have an intellect! – to that evidence.

Which brings us to members of the Public and Commercial Services Union, or PCS as it’s known, working now at the Department for Business and Trade. According to reports, some civil servants there have issued an ultimatum to the government: stop arms exports to Israel or we will stop working.

One wonders how these people have managed to survive working in Whitehall until now, since they appear to have a complete misunderstanding not only of their jobs, but of the British constitution itself. It’s not civil servants who decide policy which ministers then implement. It’s the other way round.

According to Paul O'Connor, head of bargaining at PCS, the union believes "that the UK government has an obligation to do all it can to halt the onslaught" (in case you’re wondering, that’s the “onslaught” by the IDF, not Hamas’ massacre of 1200 Israelis, or rocket fire into Israel). The union and its members can of course believe all they want. Civil servants are entitled to hold all sorts of differing views. And they are fully entitled to disagree with government policy, as are we all. In the privacy of their own heads. And then, come election time, they are free to vote however they want.

What they are not entitled to do is decide which bits of government policy they agree with and which they don’t - and not only refuse to work on the latter but demand that it changes to their way of thinking.

Still, there is a simple solution for those civil servants who refuse to do their job and implement government policy.

Their wish to stop work should be granted - along with their pay cheque and contract of employment.

April 05, 2024 11:38

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