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.

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Of Crimes, Excuses, and Extenuations

Again, if we compare crimes by the mischief of their effects; first, the same fact when it redounds to the damage of many is greater than when it redounds to the hurt of few.  And therefore when a fact hurteth, not only in the present, but also by example in the future, it is a greater crime than if it hurt only in the present:  for the former is a fertile crime, and multiplies to the hurt of many; the latter is barren.  To maintain doctrines contrary to the religion established in the Commonwealth is a greater fault in an authorised preacher than in a private person:  so also is it to live profanely, incontinently, or do any irreligious act whatsoever.

Likewise in a professor of the law, to maintain any point, or do any act, that tendeth to the weakening of the sovereign power is a greater crime than in another man:  also in a man that hath such reputation for wisdom as that his counsels are followed, or his actions imitated by many, his fact against the law is a greater crime than the same fact in another:  for such men not only commit crime, but teach it for law to all other men.  And generally all crimes are the greater by the scandal they give; that is to say, by becoming stumbling-blocks to the weak, that look not so much upon the way they go in, as upon the light that other men carry before them.

Also facts of hostility against the present state of the Commonwealth are greater crimes than the same acts done to private men:  for the damage extends itself to all:  such are the betraying of the strengths or revealing of the secrets of the Commonwealth to an enemy; also all attempts upon the representative of the Commonwealth, be it a monarch or an assembly; and all endeavours by word or deed to diminish the authority of the same, either in the present time or in succession:  which crimes the Latins understand by crimina laesae majestatis, and consist in design, or act, contrary to a fundamental law. Likewise those crimes which render judgements of no effect are greater crimes than injuries done to one or a few persons; as to receive money to give false judgement or testimony is a greater crime than otherwise to deceive a man of the like or a greater sum; because not only he has wrong, that falls by such judgements, but all judgements are rendered useless, and occasion ministered to force and private revenges.

Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan; Chapter XXVII

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Puritans and the Pilgrim

The Church Times (which may be some readers’ favourite journal) carried an article recently by Dr Nicholas Fisher, ‘Standing down the Puritan Penumbra’, celebrating the work of Symon Patrick, who played a crucial part in defending the settlement of the Church of England after the Restoration. It is not just a subject of interest to church historians but it contains a strong lesson about the nation’s social and political divisions in our own day.

The history and the conflict

In the 17th century, the Church of England commanded the moral teaching of the nation and potentially its whole social outlook, and so control of it was key to controlling the ideology of England.  The Church’s official doctrines included freedom of conscience in that only the Bible is an absolute standard, but secular authorities would frequently find an excuse for punishing dissentient speech.  (Thomas Hobbes was accused of atheism for some of his ideas even though fully concordant with the Bible.)

Therefore the church in England and in Scotland was a battleground, much as media regulation is becoming a battleground for us today, and dissent from the established church would be punished not for doctrinal reasons, but to control preaching.

At the Civil War, Parliament’s Puritan faction changed the polity of the Church of England, abolishing bishops and replacing dioceses and bishops with presbyteries and assemblies. It was a classic political case of the means to an end which became an end in itself, or the fringe demand, put just to be sacrificed in negotiation, which became an unshakable demand.

The old order was restored at the Restoration but it was not a foregone conclusion: Pepys in his diary confides that the King may be forced to concede to a Presbyterian church. In the event, the bishops returned, clergy were required to conform, huge numbers of clergy left to form non-conformist congregations, but it was not over:  strong voices still pressed for the abolish prelacy, to turn the Church of England into a Presbyterian church.

The pressure for Presbytery was strong and growing, and each fault in a bishop, or any slippage towards ceremonialism was held as proof of lapsing towards Roman ways. The move to Presbyterianism was made to feel inevitable.  That is echoed in every age: imperfection is held up as utter corruption and the word ‘inevitable’ breaks resistance. You may think of your own examples.

Into this stepped a clergyman, Symon Patrick. He could see that the Puritans were gaining the upper hand, and so he wrote ‘The Parable of the Pilgrim’, about a pilgrim trying to travel to Jerusalem, and first seeking a reliable guide.

I cannot say the Patrick’s Parable is a gripping read.  It is for from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. (written in the same age).  It was popular though, and is credited with convincing the King and the establishment that Presbytery was not inevitable nor the will of the people, and that the public mood was for the old ways.

The argument and the outcome

Patrick’s theme in essence was that the Church of England is a reliable guide, and the non-conforming Puritans are a violent, extreme faction who were responsible for the Civil War and would cause another one.

He does not claim that the episcopal version of the Church had the sole claim on truth and does not accuse the non-conformists of false doctrine, except in as far as they claimed to have a monopoly of the way to salvation and of acceptable practice. This then is a key: we are the reasonable men; they are dangerous extremists; remember the horror of the late war, as a revival of it looms in their counsels.

The result was effective: public opinion turned strongly in favour of the bishops, and the Puritans shrank back.  However it also encouraged the secular authorities to impose malicious penalties on non-conformity.  Whether Symon Patrick had that in mind I cannot say, but it makes it uncomfortable to read the triumphalist tone in the Church Times article, perhaps just an echo of the inevitable affection of a biographer for his subject.

Ill-treatment of non-conformists was unprincipled and counter-productive. Since the Restoration, the non-conformist churches and the Church of England have had a mutually supporting role in their mutual antagonism: the non-conformists are often the conscience to admonish the Church of England when it goes wrong, as it frequently does, and they allow preachers to speak out, on matters such as slavery and false doctrines, where the Anglican structure encourages silence and bland following of liturgy. At the same time, the Church of England provides a structure and written standard against which the non-conformist churches may be measured in case they are tempted to stray, as they do without structure: the Quakers have ceased to be Christian in any meaningful sense.

The lessons into modernity

In our own day, the moral teaching of the nation is secularised. Novel, irreligious doctrines coming out of nowhere are established and pressed upon us by secular authorities and those who set themselves up as authorities. Even of the Church of England is complying.

The argument in Patrick’s Parable holds good today: the Puritans who claim a monopoly of truth are dangerous, and while their positions and arguments may be within the wide cast of honest opinion, they cannot be allowed in charge.

However the position of our own day is reversed from the Restoration period: the establishment has been seized by secular Puritans, little different from those Patrick describes in his Parable of the Pilgrim. They act in the way he warns, and without any apparent sense of irony the New Puritans are ready to accuse dissenting, conservative-minded folk of being dangerous extremists, and spit hatred at them in the name of opposing hate.

The New Puritans are not a myth, as case after case demonstrates: careers ruined, businesses closed and intimidated, others harassed by lawsuits. In this, the radical New Puritan may act as legislator, judge, jury and executioner. After the Long March Through the Institutions, establishment positions are held by left-wingers, so there is little resistance.

Now we need non-conforming commentators. A secular Symon Patrick in our own day would face ostracism, even in the cowed Church, as he would be writing outside the establishment. Maybe it would be coming too late: Patrick wrote to prevent a takeover, but for us, that takeover has happened.

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The Long March: conspiracy or accident?

The Long March through the Institutions was advocated by Rudi Dutschke, a German, Communist student activist in 1971: he saw the progress of revolution stifled by the established order and so wrote that Communists could subvert this order by infiltrating the institutions which make it up.

As those with Marxist or cultural-Marxist ideas have apparently taken control of all institutions, the conspiracy would seem to have been sprung.  Something does not feel right about this neat theory though.  For one thing, giant conspiracies do not work, and for another, writing your whole plan in a popular book for all the world to see is a terrible way to run a secret conspiracy.

It has happened though, and as ConHome reminds us frequently, research has found five times more labour supporters have been appointed to public bodies than Tories.

Conspiracy or natural selection?

There may be an element of deliberate exclusion of Tories.  This might be the sort of action which is co-ordinated over dinner parties or WhatsApp groups.  This is a conspiracy, but a localised one rather than anything centrally directed.

It can be hard to deny a conspiracy against conservative-minded candidates when we see apparently co-ordinated attacks on such appointees bursting out into the media.  This might just be a ‘Twitter congregation’.  More studies would be needed to determine how much planned co-ordination goes into such attacks (but with few conservatives now in academic positions it may be impossible to commission such research).

There may be other explanations though for the overwhelming dominance of Marxists and cultural-Marxists in institutional positions; essentially that it has been a natural process caused by the characters and motivations of those involved; an osmosis where the red particles pass more easily in through a membrane and others more easily pass out. 

A body which effectively appoints its own successors, or which has an independent appointments board, will through natural processes entrench its own prejudices.  In making appointments, the board will be charged with choosing those considered sound and sensible: it is natural then to think that their own views are the sound, sensible view and that those who differ from them are lacking in principle or intellect.  If charged with ensuring political neutrality, it is natural to think of their own views as neutral and others as political or “fringe”.  Furthermore, it is natural for a board to choose as colleagues those with whom one can work in harmony, who will not challenge their colleague’s own views and assumptions.

A system fine-tuned to fail

A quick review of the positions offered in the quangocracy shows an interesting pattern:  most senior positions are part-time jobs, paid well for the few hours the holder is expected to work, but not as a career salary.  Therefore anyone who wishes to take a management role in a quango must be one who has the hours to spend: an academic, a semi-retired company director, or more particularly an existing quangocrat with a portfolio of positions to keep his family fed.  These are not career-structure positions:  they are to be filled by those with a “proven track record” in the field, which excludes new blood and favours those in the system.

The biggest ‘Public appointments’ advertising section is in The Guardian (which is essentially a socialist political party which happens to run a newspaper on the side).  The implication is obvious.

In addition, these whose instinct is in favour of commerce and enterprise will gravitate to what most of us would call getting proper jobs:  jobs in commercial business where merit is rewarded and wealth created. Those with no liking for commerce will gravitate to jobs living off state largesse.

Our nation’s social history does not help in this: in the days of a regimented class system, a gentleman would live from his rents and landed income, or seek such a worthy profession as the army the Church or the law, while ‘trade’ was considered a low calling.  Now there are few landed estates, the outlets for those who still despise ‘trade’ are academia and the quangocracy.

A man isolated from the realities of commercial life is isolated from reality and unfit to be entrusted with any great charge.  Also, he cannot be expected to appreciate the need for a limited state, if he has no love for any endeavour that is outside the state.

In this way, the institutions of the state will by natural process be filled with those who would despise the commerciality of a whelk stall and be unfit to be entrusted with one.

Challenging the entrenched powers

If all this is so, then reversing it will take more than exposing a conspiracy, as there is no conspiracy:  it requires a fundamental change in the system which makes this osmosis happen.

The reality of the take-over is undoubted, and it is realised as much by the left-wing as by conservatives.  The defence of left-wing hegemony has been deployed on notable occasions:  just months ago Sir Roger Scruton, Britain’s greatest living philosopher, was barred from an innocuous, unpaid position after a targeted attack:  no conservative is to be permitted a position of influence.

Public frustration at the leaden-headedness of bureaucracy and the strictures of public bodies (and alleged public bodies) has grown to anger, and if elections every five years seem to make no difference, the safety valve has gone.

The action to take?  That might require a longer article.

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Register the establishment

There has never been an effective bonfire of the quangos nor is one likely.  The number of these beasts varies – the best estimates are around 2,000 just for central government, but it could be more, depending on definitions.  The powers they exercise vary: they may give advice, or just design forms, or administer an area of law, or may actually make law.  They may meet twice a year and consider a niche field, or they may have a billion-pound budget and more staff than a major company.

The landscape of quangocracy

The existence of any given body may be unknown to any but a small circle – some may not be known even to the ministers nominally responsible, and certainly responsible ministers may have little knowledge of what “their” quangos are doing.  The scope for corruption is high; the scope for forceful members to usurp authority is limitless.

A body which is not watched will step beyond its scope, and individuals will gravitate to it who have their own agenda, which is likely to differ from the instincts of the democratic element of government.

All this is well understood by government, but with little idea of how to control it.  The occasional little bonfire makes a minister feel good, but barely dents the system, and as one head is cut off the hydra, three more arise to fill the space, each time a politician wishes to be seen to be doing something.

Private business contrasted

To open the system, let us apply principles applied to private business.

Limited companies are under a single system contained in a single Act of Parliament (currently the Companies Act 2016) which is intuitive and well understood, and which applies comfortably to all limited companies, from a one-man enterprise to a multinational conglomerate.  Each is registered at Companies House, whereupon it receives legal personality and limited liability in return for a degree of openness: it must have a registered office and publish its accounts and the names of its directors, amongst other details.  This is so that that those doing business with the company can see what they are dealing with when they sign a contract.

A ‘quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation’ may be entrusted with a huge budget and legal powers without the same degree of openness.  Freedom of information requests may prise the lid off, but it is slow and you need to know where to look.  If a quango were a company, all this would be on a database published on-line.

Quangos are not all of a type: one may be established and organised by its own Act of Parliament or statutory instrument, royal charter or ministerial fiat.  Some are essentially just committees, others vast bureaucracies and most in between, and most are run by part-time commissioners who may sit on many boards and flit across the public sector; a professional tax-eating class who have been dubbed the ‘quangocrats’: in the meantime, the real control is in the hands of unaccountable employed staff.  A public body may have legal personality or not, with more official autonomy or less.  A new body may be an old one renamed or two merged, inheriting the debts and duties of the predecessors, or a fresh invention.

For a member of the public faced with a faceless quango which may or may not legally exist and may or may not be the same body they started dealing with, the prospect of redress from an uncertain entity is daunting.

A Minister too cannot be expected to keep track of what is being done and spent in his name. Whenever he wants to trim of bureaucracy, he can have no idea of what that bureaucracy is.  He may also find that the individuals who are set to lose one of their salaries can subvert that change using several other bodies, hiding behind their anonymous notepaper.

In such an unpoliced system, a driven individual can impose their radical ideas, ‘leading beyond authority’, with little chance of being stopped.

Register the establishment

Therefore, let us register the quangos at Companies House (and resist the Whitehall habit of establishing a new, expensive quango-over-the-quangos that has to work things out from scratch with an expensive new system and new commissioners).

Every public body other than main ministries, whether incorporated or not, must register.  As is expected of every private company however small, it must have a name, a registered office at which it can be contacted or sued, and be issued with a unique company number which will follow it through all its changes of name and shape. Its nature must be clear: is it incorporated or not, and with Crown immunities or not.  As a company must register its Articles of Association, we must know the constitution of every quango, and its directors, and the ‘shareholder’ who appoints and dismisses them:  he too must take responsibility.  The public should know too what the quango’s duties and powers are, or state where they can be found.  Finally, the accounts must be published at Companies House, available to all.

None of this is new information nor any burden to provide.  It might even help the staff of the quango to have the information at their fingertips, as sometimes even they may forget what they are and what their job is.

The sanction for failure in a private company is a fine, and eventual dissolution.  For a quango it should be this:  unless their registration is complete and up to date, they may not receive any public funds, they may not levy any fee, and their officers remain unpaid.

It may be embarrassing to find that, say Birmingham City Council has failed to file its accounts on time and so is barred from levying council tax, but there must be discipline.

There will be arguments over what is and is not a registrable public body, which itself tells us something of the undesirable complexity of modern government.  A simple answer may be that if it has an independent budget and is not just a task group of civil servants, it must register.

We may go further too and make the creation and the dissolution of quangos more systematic, which must simplify the process and save waste in repetition.  Further, if a public body is established for a particular task, it must dissolve at the end of it, and that end date be flagged up on the register.

There has never yet been a successful bonfire of the quangos, but until they are all registered in one place, with an understood procedure for dissolution, it is not even contemplatable.

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