Army of clerks

It is not true that the Ministry of Defence has more civil servants than there are soldiers – there are only half as many. That is still shocking though:  one clerk for every two regular soldiers. What do they do all day that is not already done by the General Staff or the regimental staff?

The navy, army and air force are already top-heavy in senior officers. The structure is basically that which served an army of millions and has not come to terms with shrinking to the mini-army we have today, which does not need such a multiplicity of generals let alone field marshals.  They are all fine gentlemen, no doubt, but you begin to suspect that they were promoted out of politeness. Balls at Mansfield Park may have glittered with admirals, rears and vices, but their great fleets of ships to command are no longer there, and mass retirement is something to be discussed in quiet corners.

The excess of generals is one thing, but being overbalanced by civilian clerks is a humiliation.

Maybe a cure could be to stick each one in uniform with a rifle and bayonet in their hand, and they might be an effective rearguard force – the Civil Service Rifles were a well-regarded volunteer unit from the Victorian period and formed a regular regiment which fought with distinction in the Great War.  I can see no sign of the desk-wallahs of today following their forebears though.

We come back to why we need a civil servant for every two soldiers.  It is not as if the clerk ever meets his two Tommies. It is a waste of breath: I do not know either.  Only those who have spent time in the depths of Whitehall will have any idea of what is actually done, and where the redundancies are, and those who have been there will soon go native. Maybe now we have a new army, of defenestrated ex-ministers, there is someone who can suggest what to do, from the outside and with knowledge of the inside.

The Ministry of Defence is a model of inefficiency, as were its predecessors it must be said.  Basic items that can be picked up for a few bob in civvy street are billed to the MoD at a 1000% mark-up and more, and soldiers still buy their own boots rather than rely on the dodgy stock issued to them, or did in my day.  The equipment is every more sophisticated and expensive, and sits in storage its whole life because a soldier’s work in the field still comes down to pushing a piece of steel through the enemy just as it was at Thermopylae.

(Imagination and innovation are the best weapons for an officer, which is seen in every great general and admiral from Caesar to Montgomery. Imagination and innovation are a horror to the civil service mentality. How the two can work together is a mystery.)

The men are not coming forward to serve these days. We no longer have starving men ready to join the ranks to fill their bellies, and no constant colonial adventure to draw the adventurer. Neither are there six-foot bewhiskered sergeants causing women to swoon at the sight and young men to join up in envy and emulation. What we do have is an inhuman, limp-wristed, computerised, out-sourced recruitment system that every soldier hates and which has presided over the greatest fall in numbers since the first day of the Somme. No minister may criticise their own contractor. Perhaps those who have escaped may do so.

Perhaps the Ministry of Defence is kept at in such numbers to administer a shell of the armed forces, which are ready to fill up to full strength when there is a major war, and the army is swollen to six million men as once it was. Still, it has been seventy-four years since the end of the War, and thirty years since the end of the Cold War, and even the Blair Wars did not appreciably increase the army (or even the Royal Marines, who get handed the brunt of special operations). Are they dreaming of greatness never to come again, like a country house once teaming with glitering parties and a battalion of staff, now left an echoing shell in case the days come again?

Another thought comes to mind: increasing defence spending is a vote-winner, but having got the funds, what can it be spent on, where there are no men to fill the uniforms? Petty clerks is the answer. There – we can have increase spending on “defence” but not a penny more going to war-fighting capacity.

See also

Books

Eschatological Rebellion

What makes a respectable, wealthy, middle class, middle-aged woman climb up and try to smash a window in a government ministry? What brings more white, middle class academics and children of professionals on to the street to block the traffic, vandalise buildings and run countercultural camps in the streets? It is not the environment.

The end of the world! There were once eccentric men walking the streets with placards announcing “The End of the World is Nigh!“, and how we chuckled at them; now they wear beads and flypost ominous stickers on the Tube. I would laugh, but they are scaring children half to death with their unhinged eschatology.

If your stomach was turned by some of the displays available on YouTube it may be the sight of people dressed up as hippies or students doing ‘interpretive dance’ in the street or tents with signs for mindfulness sessions. That tells you more about us outside, really. It is a culture-clash: these are the people we do not want to be like, and we are the people they do not like because we do not appreciate their way of thinking.

(There is nothing wrong with interpretive dance on the street – in fact it is positive as it identifies the people I can ignore.)

Extinction Rebellion is wrong in just about everything they stand for. Having made that point, I have to look at the attraction they have for many, and why there is anger when I every doubt them.

The cause they claim is saving the world; every comic-book hero’s quest, and who can doubt that? It is what we are brought up with. We try to ignore the incongruity when Batman destroys a city just to save a girl, because he is just a comic fantasy, and so is Extinction Rebellion’s rhetoric.

So what makes a respectable, wealthy, middle class, middle-aged woman climb up and try to smash a window in a government ministry? That answers itself – the stifling social constraints of respectability. Bursting out of the constraints, liberation like a fly escaping from a bottle – that is what it is all about. There are hammers and spraypaint and free-form dance, and at least the latter harms no one. That ever-present voice inside says ‘settle down, be good, do your homework;, but then a new ideology is available that says ‘all those things you never dared to do – do them!’

The rest of us look askance at the chaos that denies our learnt, ordered pattern of the world, but maybe with a hint of jealousy.

The odd thing is though that this gathering of thousands of likeminded or easily misled souls is itself a quest for respectability.

There are other. There are grannies suddenly finding a purpose for their time. There are junior clergymen losing their purpose. There are academics from ex-polytechnics with books and little imagination, resigned never rise to the height that demands actual intellect. They are powerless, and here they find some semblance of power. Their works will never be cited at Oxford, but here their voice can be heard for a moment, whatever unscientific nonsense they speak, and if they can persuade the government to act, as they sincerely desire, then that is power indeed. No wonder they respond so viciously when doubted: we are stealing their last chance for power.

For the rest of us, who may be doing more for the benefit of mankind and his environment than the whole parcel of the ‘XR’ mob, this is an annoyance to be cleared up like any other. What to do about it – that must be another article.

See also:

Books

Action: a Powers and Bodies Bill

When we have a functioning Parliament, it must sweep away the encrusted chaos into which petty bureaucracy has descended. It threatens to overwhelm the state. Parliament is to blame; Parliament must sort it out (but Parliament is itself now is just as dysfunctional).

In July we published Our plan for the new Prime Minister, but he has had a lot on his plate.  One action could begin to clear the Augean Stables of Whitehall: a Powers and Bodies Act.

Initial heads of action for a Powers and Bodies Bill should include:

  • Register the Quangocracy;
  • Rationalise the birth and dissolution of quangos;
  • Codify judicial review;
  • Limit the abuse of power by privileged professional associations;
  • Restore the separation of powers.

In a series of articles I and others will look at each one of these aims, and maybe add more.

Register the Quangocracy

If we do not know what public bodies there are, how they are appointed and what money they receive, and how they overlap, then it is not possible sensibly to monitor them or reform them.

Private companies have to provide, on the public register, a registered office, their constitution and their accounts, and are given a unique identifying company number: that way, anyone doing business with them knows with whom they were dealing and where notices can be served. Public bodies, which get large wads of taxpayers’ money, should be no less transparent. A register would show who they are, how many there are, where they overlap (and so where there is redundancy) and who is responsible.

All public bodies derive their authority from elsewhere and must submit to Tony Benn’s questions: “What power have you got? Where did you get it? In whose interests do you exercise it? To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?”

Rationalise the birth and dissolution of quangos;

  • (Future article to follow)

To rationalise the process of creating, managing and dissolving public bodies, look at what is done these days. It is typical for an Act of Parliament which decrees the creation of a new body to set out in detail its legal form, name, legal personality and such detail as the MPs passing it are unlikely to be bothered with, and Parliament does this time after time. It is not beyond the wit of draftsmen to lay down, in a Powers and Bodies Act, a standard constitution for any new public body, with variations and options perhaps, so that the next time an Act creates yet another quango it can do so in one line.

An advantage of standardisation, apart from saving reams of paper, is to make such bodies comprehensible and, when the time comes, abolishable.

This is the second strand then: a standard procedure for winding old quangos up, or merging or transforming them. If it is made easier, it will be less trouble to clear the detritus of old enthusiasms.

Codify judicial review

  • (Future article to follow)

Judicial review has expanded wildly since the Wednesbury decision, to beyond what any could then have imagined.  Once a rare occurrence, judicial review of administrative decisions is now commonplace.  We need judicial review as a remedy, to ensure the rule of law. The rules applied though are all judge-made law, never reviewed by Parliament, and so judges are free to expand their remit at will.

The astounding judgment of the Supreme Court yesterday claimed to uphold the constitution but in reality smashes through it, inventing rules where there were none.  That has been the case through throughout the development of judicial review.  In that case, rules must be laid down to bring certainty and an end to judicial adventurism.

There is no guarantee that the Miller / Cherry case is the high water mark of judicial intervention. They can go further.  Sir Stephen Laws speculated yesterday that a court might interfere even with the giving of royal assent in future: it would be but a small step of logic from Miller/Cherry. Foreign treaties and declarations of peace and war are now open to challenge.

Therefore it is for Parliament to supply what they have hitherto omitted to do: to define the law.

Limit the abuse of power by privileged professional associations

  • (Future article to follow)

Several professional associations have powers granted to them by Act of Parliament, and they may pretend that they are private organisations with whom the state may not interfere, but where they are exercising legal powers over their members and sometime over others, then they are acting as state bodies and must be accountable for any abuse of the power entrusted to them.

A body such as the Law Society or the Institute of Chartered Accountants has immense power, impose rules on their professions and to ban anyone from practising, or to impose a fine. Hitherto they have been trusted to act like gentlemen, and for the most part they do. However there is nothing to prevent those learned bodies from adopting wayward rules, for example to ban from practice those who belong to a particular political party. They may be coming close to excluding those who will not subscribe to certain minority social ideas. That would be an abuse of powers granted by Parliament, but there is nothing to prevent it.

Interim conclusion

These look like petty matters: a register, or how to create and dismiss bodies, or stopping privileged bodies from acting as they have not acted anyway, and for that reason they have not been addressed by Parliament. However the neglect of such petty matters has allowed for aggregation of inefficiency. Bring all this together, pass a Powers and Bodies Act with all these aspects, and both Government and Parliament will be able to bring back control of their creations and even achieve the ‘bonfire of the quangos’ which is constantly promised and never achieved.

Books

Housing: courting injustice – 1

One thing is consistent through every change of government:  the rules about renting homes will be messed about, to harm both tenants and landlords

Housing rules are currently within the tender mercies of the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whose declared task is to make things better for tenants. Studies showing that every intervention has been a failure and usually counter-productive do not appear to have informed a change in direction. Obvious problems have produced reactions, but rarely wise ones.

Two initiatives are current.  Both were initiated under James Brokenshire, and since he has been unceremoniously booted out of his seat it is possible that his successor, Robert Jenrick, will change direction but until we hear that he has brought authoritative common sense to bear, we must assume that the political capital invested in the two principal ideas proposed will keep them alive.

  • Abolition of assured shorthold tenancies
  • A new Housing Court

As background assured shorthold tenancy were introduced during Margaret Thatcher’s time gradually to replace Labour’s Rent Acts. An ‘AST’ is a fixed term tenancy which, if not brought to an end by two months’ notice, will continue indefinitely until the landlord serves a notice (known in the jargon as a “Section 20 Notice’).  The new proposal is to abolish Section 20 notices, so a landlord could not get his property back unless he can prove, in court, one of a number of listed grounds for possession.  It is unlikely that these grounds will include ‘The rent is too low: I want to improve it and let it to richer tenants’.

Landlord groups have pointed out that these proposals will eliminate the possibility of short-term or interim lets, remove he opportunity for flats to be improved for anything short of a major rebuilding, and will result in numerous properties being removed from the market causing a housing shortage and higher rents overall due to supply and demand.  It also means that landlords who remain in the market will have to command higher rents in order to cushion themselves against the court costs of removing a troublesome tenant, and for the loss of capital value. One might add that tenants will stop worrying about their behaviour: they will really have to trash the place or stop paying rent before the landlord can do anything about them, and even then he has to be a landlord with the spare cash to go to court – and without rent coming in, he may not.

If a tenant refuses to move out, having received a Section 20 Notice, the court procedure should be quick: there is no defence, so the order is made, and after six months with no rent paid the bailiff (yet more cost) may throw them out.  If grounds have to be proven, then that requires a full court hearing, evidence, adjournments, a suspended order while the court gives the tenant a last chance, a new hearing when he defaults again, more evidence, and then and only then can a bailiff be engaged; and if it has got that far the tenant will not go quietly and may be enraged to trash the flat as he goes.

The result is high rents, impoverished landlords and an ever-declining quality of housing stock. Yet the proposal is championed as being for the protection of tenants. Tell that to the next tenant who moves into the trashed flat his landlord cannot afford to repair, paying through the nose to cushion the landlord’s loss and the future risks, and with no alternative because there are few flats left on the market.

The proposals did not come from the Ministry; they came from Shelter, once an honourable charity but which can now join the ranks of the fake charities, funded from our pockets to pump socialist ideas into government.  Their care for the homeless is not doubted, but the ideas they propose to help are the equivalent of helping a drowning man by pushing him deeper into the sea.

Shelter has a strong influence because it can play upon its worthiness of intent, and because it does supply advice for tenants genuinely needing help with the law. Well, I am pleased with the plumber when he does a good job, but I do not then let him and his wet hands play with the electrics too.

In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king:  another grip that a lobbying group like this can have is that no one else is as familiar with the Byzantine laws governing housing, and so by ensuring the continued complexity of the law, the lobbyists stay in control.

This though, and the second proposal, the Housing Court, must be the subject of a separate article.

Our plan for the new Prime Minister

Everyone else is doing it, so why not here?

Every column inch in the dead-tree press will be filled for weeks with columnists’ own plans to save Britain / the World, and Boris Johnson knows this well, as a columnist.  To each, the only plan for success is their own and any failure to follow it is a scandalously wasted opportunity that will seem like a betrayal. The success of Team Boris came swiftly and the backlash will be quicker. 

In the meantime, it is my duty to see what plans can come from my febrile imaginings and those of my colleagues, which are, naturally, the only solution, the slightest failing in which is a criminal waste / betrayal / surrender to the Blob.

  • Leave the EU on or before Reformation Day, 31 October, with or without a deal;
  • If Brussels will not replace or amend the Withdrawal Agreement (see earlier post on that; “Fixing the Withdrawal Agreement“, then offer a unilateral post-withdrawal deal for continuing tariff-free trade.
  • Reduce taxes for all, especially the squeezed Middle Classes, or ‘customers’ as we are known in business.
  • Register the Establishment;
  • A reforming unionist agenda:
    • Do not buy nor publish maps which only show England and Wales, or only England.
    • Run through all the Acts, rules and guidance which bar Scots and Ulstermen by carelessness of wording I have a very long list by my elbow)
    • Close the Ulster Bypass, and use the government’s economies of scale to provide services equally in Ulster as such economies provide in Great Britain (another list by my elbow)
    • Root through the national curriculum to remove regional bias
  • A radical free speech initiative, inside and outside government, and inside government:
    • Sack all diversity officers and cancel all equality and diversity training;
    • Discipline or dismiss public servants who try to get colleagues sacked for transgressing codes of PC speech and behaviour;
  • Order the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to stop taking orders from Shelter, and remove any civil servants who act as conduits for that charity’s political ideas.  Instead, support private landlords: they are the ones who provide homes and they will not if they are punished.
  • Abolish inheritance tax.
  • Delete the word “county” from local government terminology: those flags in the Square today are what counties are really about – community not bureaucracy
  • Drive back the Long March:
    • Stop advertising government jobs in the Guardian;
    • Stop handing cash to ex-Labour politicians under the guise of research grants
    • Other things that need doing you know perfectly well, but such deeds can only be named in the dark.
  • And while you are about it: Land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.

Well that’s for the first week. Going into August there is more to be done.

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