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Coffee House

Once civil servants have praised one Prime Minister, they must praise them all

15 April 2013

4:01 PM

15 April 2013

4:01 PM

Sir Jeremy Heywood and Sir Bob Kerslake have penned a civil service tribute to Margaret Thatcher in today’s Telegraph. They laud her as the ‘best kind of boss.’ They are full of praise for her habit of producing home-cooked shepherd pie for civil servants working late, a hint—perhaps—to the current occupant of Downing Street.

But I have to say that the whole thing makes me slightly queasy. These two men place a huge value on civil service neutrality but applauding her for the fact the ‘civil service was modernised’ on her watch does seem to be, or risks being seen, as a political statement. While their warm words about how ‘instead of setting herself up in conflict, she found allies for reform within’ the civil service could be taken as a criticism of David Cameron’s complaints about the bureaucratic ‘enemies of enterprise.’

The article also makes me wonder if the civil service will now pay tribute to every Prime Minister when they depart this mortal coil. Now that they have started doing so, they’ll have to carry on otherwise it’ll look like they are making a political judgement about the significance of each premier.

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