I thought it might be interesting to include a bit of it on this blog, if only to provide a contrast to the somewhat different views about the civil service that I developed later in my career there.
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CHAPTER 5: WHAT DOES A DEPARTMENT STORE?
"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy." Ernest Benn
YOU CAN'T ESCAPE THE LAW
Imagine you're taking a walk along your road to the shops at the end of it. Look at everything around you - the houses, pavement, road, hedges, trees and the sky. Well, you won't see anything that isn't controlled by government legislation or law.
If you live in town, then every house you pass has to conform to the law. For example, no one can simply build a bit onto their house without planning permission. If a man wants to have a giant plastic shark sticking out of the top of his roof (and there is such a man in Oxford) he'll have to spend years fighting the local authorities who will insist that the law doesn't allow for large marine life to be obstructing the skyline. Artists and people with a sense of humour might like it but then they're not paid to uphold the law.
Even the satellite dishes on people's walls are only there because legislation says they can be, providing they're not bigger than a certain size. Not only that but several different Departments will have had a say in the legislation. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) would have had a lot to say about where you can actually put them. The Radio Communications Agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) would have had a lot of input about wavebands and licenses. The Treasury would want to know how much it's all going to cost. And then DTI would have had another say where telecommunications is concerned, and so on.
Even the height of garden walls is controlled by law, and in conservation areas you can't paint your house without getting the colour approved by the proper authorities. Perhaps you can begin to see why there are so many civil servants.
It isn't any different if you live in the country. You may be surrounded by fields and trees but everything in the country is controlled too. Even the air around and above you is covered by legislation which says who can fly in what kind of machine and when and where, and how much factories can and can't pollute it.
At present, if you were to wake up tomorrow morning with new super-powers, you could simply leap out of your bedroom window and fly to school. This is because we don't have any laws about super-heroes. Which is because the government doesn't believe there are any. But it wouldn't be long before the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions (DTLR), probably working closely with DEFRA, brought in new legislation called 'The Control of Unmotorised Airborne Youths Who Wear Brightly Coloured Underpants Outside Their Bodystockings Act 2002'.
So, Departments are places where the government's policy is put into action. The policy has to be backed up by law, which is what Parliament does. Once the laws are made they're passed to the Departments, which then do all the paperwork, print the brochures, hire the lorries and so on which make the policies work.
As you know, the people who do all this work in the Departments are civil servants. They are not politicians. Civil servants are neutral, which means they put the government's policies into action without being for or against them. A civil servant may have private views about whether a policy is a good or a bad thing but he won't let it affect his job.
And of course, a lot of government policies are unpopular with all sorts of people. For example, if the government wanted to ban fox hunting, it would first propose a Bill to do it. This Bill would then have to go through the House of Commons, be looked at by the House of Lords, and finally become law. After it becomes law, there are all sorts of bits of it which civil servants need to put into practice, as well as deal with the effects the new law may have on the rest of the world. For instance, if Scotland doesn't ban fox hunting too, then there'll be problems along the border of England and Scotland. Imagine a legal hunt in Scotland chasing a fox that is clever enough to nip over the border into England where it's illegal.
While the anti-fox hunting Bill is going through Parliament, lots of people will write to the government with their views for and against. Someone has to answer these letters, emails faxes and phone calls. And even after the Bill becomes law, there will be a never-ending stream of letters and such like from people complaining about how unfair it is that they can no longer gang up on a small animal and enjoy seeing it torn to pieces buy packs of hounds.
Well of course, it's also civil servants who answer all these letters and phone calls.
As we've seen, when the government changes the civil servants stay in their Departments. If all the civil servants were changed too, it would be very difficult to run the country. A minister may be in charge of say the Department of Trade and Industry for only a year or two. While he's there, he will have to get to know something about hundreds of different schemes, committees, proposals, laws and so forth. But he will know only the main points. Each of these areas will be covered by a whole team of civil servants, many of whom will have been working on one particular point for years.
So it make sense to keep the civil servants when the government changes. At least, that's what they've convinced us is the sensible thing to do.
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