Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Draining the swamp?


The news that will occupy our media the most will be the selection of a new cabinet because this is standard fare for them and well within their comfort zone. It's worth some examination in that it gives us an idea of what footing the new government will take, but right now the only thing that really matters is Brexit; when and how it will be delivered. The real cause for alarm is not the selection of ministers, rather the SpAds and advisers. In this case Dominic Cummings.

I strongly suspect his appointment is to do with the "drain the swamp" mentality among the Brexiters who seem to think, as Cummings does, that the Civil Service is a dysfunctional mess, but more importantly, a fifth column seeking to thwart the best efforts of Brexiters.

This really plays well with Tory voters. One of the oldest mantras in the book is how we need to rationalise a "bloated civil service" to deliver a lean and efficient government. This is one of those things people causally repeat without any direct experience and wouldn't have the first idea what to cut or where. If you did actually let them loose things would grind to a halt in no time.

In this instance though, civil servants are becoming a serious problem. They have a nasty tendency to tell ministers that what they've been telling the public is at best undeliverable and at worst, completely out of touch with reality. We have a situation where politicians are saying we can hammer out free trade agreements in a matter of months when it actually takes several years. Obviously the civil servants who point this out are being obstructive and they have to go!

Similarly if experts are saying that there are no magic wand solutions that will solve the border issue in Ireland then we obviously need new experts who will tell us what we want to hear. For the same reason Theresa May had to go, we can't have a situation where policy is made in recognition of the restraints we must operate in. No, we need people who believe. We need SpAds who really know their stuff. We need true loyalists who have never questioned scripture. But it's not enough to just have a purge. Any political hack can do that. We need a real genius at work!

But of course Dominic Cummings is no genius. He's just a political stooge who knows how to act the part of a maverick - dressing like a tramp, throwing his weight around and abusing the staffers. People think he's important because his political masters let him get away with it so it is therefore assumed he's the free thinker who needs a certain licence to get results.

In this instance he serves a strategic purpose. As much as this government wants to bee seen to be radical (draining the swamp of those pesky fifth columnists), a no deal Brexit will cause any number of upsets and technical problems, all of which have been anticipated, but are flatly denied by politicians. They need a scapegoat and the civil service is it. The politicians need heads to roll.

Far from being radical conservatism, this is really just a wrecking spree. The net result will be a number of high profile resignations and transfers leaving the core political apparatus denuded of any expertise whatsoever. But then the Brexiters are fine with this. They already think they know everything and can't be told anything. They still think we can function on WTO rules alone and Brussels will come running at the last minute. Anyone saying otherwise just doesn't believe hard enough. They best be careful how many they cull though. Sooner or later there'll be nobody left to blame.

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