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Government minister guilty of ‘bullying’: expecting senior civil servants to do actual work

Michael Gove stands accused of bullying his civil servants. According to The Sun, he “was said to have been visibly angry with a string of officials” over the abject state of the visa scheme for Ukrainian refugees.

This has led Jeremy Rycroft, the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, to complain to Jeremy Pocklington, his counterpart at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). … when Priti Patel was accused of the same, the report into the incident concluded that: “Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”. … If they feel bullied, it’s bullying

One would not expect Conservative Home to be overly sympathetic to the whining permanent secretaries, or harsh to Gove. That said, I think a new series of ‘Yes, Minister’ would see Permanent Secretary Sir Humphrey Appleby sobbing “How can you bully me like this?”, then behind-the-scenes fixing the ‘enquiry’, as another way to block whatever Minister Jim Hacker was pushing him to do. Whether it’s Priti Patel ‘bullying’ a permanent secretary to bar illegal immigrants the higher civil service is happy to see enter the UK, or Michael Gove ‘bullying’ a permanent secretary to admit Ukrainian refugees the higher civil service is happy to see kept out of the UK, it’s a great way to ensure that if the minister ever reaches the point of banging the table and demanding that orders be carried out, yet another obstacle to that can be put in place.

The WWII Jewish Brigade was formed when Churchill banged the table and stated that of course it would be, putting an end to the meant-to-be-endless delays of certain advisors. The Jewish Brigade spent the last six months of WWII killing Germans and learning everything the British army knew about military technique (by the end of WWII, that was a lot). Historians of the wars of Israel’s formation say Israel would not have survived without the Jewish Brigade. It was lucky Churchill banged the table then, not today, when the brigade’s creation could have been delayed yet longer by a ‘bullying’ enquiry.

13 comments to Government minister guilty of ‘bullying’: expecting senior civil servants to do actual work

  • John

    Home Office insisting civil servants indicate their pronouns

    If you haven’t already read Guido’s article from two days ago there’s no real need to follow the link as the title tells it all.

    It’s not hard to imagine some serious internal bullying for anyone principled, or foolish from a career perspective, enough to ignore this diktat.

    (The Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities (DHLUC) sounds like something too far-fetched even for Yes Minister hence Jim Hacker’s less absurd title of Minister for Administrative Affairs).

  • John

    Sorry DLUHC not DHLUC.

    How could I get that wrong?

  • More dead wood that a true Conservative government would have axed in the great Bonfire of the Quangos and Surpluses…

  • For decades, so-called civil “servants” have been bullying the people they ostensibly “serve” by ignoring what their bosses and the public want, attempting to impose their own agenda on the population, and siccing the power of the civil service on those who oppose them.

  • Stonyground

    People who work in the real world have to get on with doing the job that they are paid to do or they end up getting a written warning. A couple more of those and they find themselves out of a job. There is generally a structure in place to give the employee in question further training and a chance to shape up but if non of that works they are dismissed. Does non of this stuff apply to jobs at the pointy end of government?

  • Roué le Jour

    The Civil Service does pretty much as it pleases. That no government will talk about this, let alone do something, tells you much about politicians.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think to put it another way, the phrase of the day is “threat to democracy”. There is no greater “threat to democracy” than having a unionized civil service.

    There is no democracy when the elected leaders cannot get rid of workers who do not follow their instructions, which is to say the instructions of the people. When the civil service can simply ignore the instructions of their political “masters” without consequence, then they, not the politicians, are in charge. And there is no greater example of this than what happened under the Trump administration.

  • John


    “Civil servants must stop working from home and return to the office to ensure government buildings are at full capacity, ministers have been told.”

    “Average daily attendance of civil servants was 44%.”

  • David

    What pray tell is a “Department for Levelling Up”.

    Do they put bits of cardboard under chair legs to stop them rocking or wander round endeavouring to create a flat earth?

  • Why the need to ensure buildings are at ‘full capacity’ when you could reshuffle the departments, consolidate them and free up the excess real estate instead?

  • Penseivat

    Shirley there are certain options open.
    “Either do the job you were meant to do and for which you are being paid, or step aside or resign, and I’ll get someone in who will do that job.”
    ” There will be a conference on the topic tomorrow afternoon, which you are required to attend. The agenda is on your desk”.

  • Fraser Orr

    Why the need to ensure buildings are at ‘full capacity’ when you could reshuffle the departments, consolidate them and free up the excess real estate instead?

    Because you are assuming that the goals and purpose of the civil service are somewhat parallel to that of a commercial business — the production of a service as efficiently and effectively as possible. But that is the opposite of the goal of the civil service. The goal of the civil service is to increase their power and budgets, so your suggestion runs contrary entirely to what they are trying to do.

    It is a mistake to think that the civil service does a terrible job. They are actually very effective, just not effective at what you and I think they should be doing. There is probably no year in history, good years and bad, that the civil service has not grown their budget and power, a record of success that few can match. Measuring success and effectiveness can only be done by defining a metric to measure. Which is to say we all misjudge the civil service because we are using the wrong tape measure.

  • bobby b

    Just remember: quiet subtle disapproval of job performance by someone who really has no power to discipline or punish you is violence and makes your workplace unsafe!

    On the other hand, the actual violent physical threats to the lives of refugees who are denied safe entry due to your poor performance count as nothing. Those people are not as refined and cultured as you, and so they do not feel your levels of psychic pain. Those brutes probably don’t even know their own pronouns.