Before Dominic Cummings left his position in Downing Street a year ago, great things were promised. That summer he promised that a Hard Rain was coming – and we have not had even a drizzle. The Blob spread an umbrella.
We need the rain now more than ever, and not just a rain but a torrent of the whole waters of the Alpheus and Peneus driving through the befouled stables of Whitehall.
A key reform was going to be the hiring of “weirdos and misfits with odd skills”, and it does need weirdos and misfits – anyone bringing wild thinking to shake up the inertia into which a system settles. I have had more than a few glimpses of the Whitehall machine and can see they would squeeze anyone original out. How the system does anything right is a mystery.
Many good and dedicated people work in Whitehall, often in the lower ranks, heads down doing the job, but dedication and goodwill just keep a thing chugging along. A monoculture ossifies. Failings are baked in and innovation strangled at birth. I have watched this many times. A drifting system too allows anyone with a personal political idea to seize the wheel and take the whole thing their way with no resistance. A minister wanting to steer the system meets resistance from the established civil service system, because it is the duty of the senior mandarins to warn and moderate, which can be taken too far. Someone working from within can bypass that.
Day by day examples pour out of wasteful and harmful initiatives, training courses designed to sabotage and to disaffect. Unseen by the public are papers produced apparently out of boredom and policy documents which have no relationship to what any minister can have said, and ministers end up being dragged along and defending what they never authorised. The public are not blind, and they can see that a government elected to take charge but which cannot control the system entrusted to it is despicable in its weakness.
Halving the size of the Civil Service could help – it would reduce redundant capacity and the temptation to do unnecessary things. Target first those who abuse their positions to push political projects in opposition to the government’s political thrust; then the actual redundancy within the ranks will become clearer. At the same time, tear up the Civil Service aptitude tests and start again with a system which allows weirdos and misfits, because they are needed to be the yeast in the dough, to break the lazy consensus and find ways to do what the monoculture dismisses.
- A hard rain’s a-Cummin’
- To follow logic like a sinking star
- Memo from the Minister
- Sir Humphrey’s logic
- A system failing in the middle
- The Long March: conspiracy or accident?
- A cabal of its enemies
- The Free Ports Opportunity: How Brexit Could Boost Trade, Manufacturing and the North by Rishi Sunak
- Woke: A Guide to Social Justice by Titania McGrath
- The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity by Douglas Murray
- Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles MacKay (1841)
- 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B Peterson
- By Boris Johnson:
- By David Cameron: