OH, TO BE IN ENGLAND: Whoever you vote for, the Blob wins.

Watch a clip of Yes Minister and it’s like looking at something from the political Cretaceous period, because Humphrey and Hacker were on equal terms. Today, when Hacker suggests a policy, Humphrey reminds him that he has devolved responsibility to the National Paperclips Authority, or it’s not within his power, or judicial review will stop it, or it’s against human rights law, or he’s bullying Bernard by asking him to turn up to work.

Rory Stewart tells alarming stories of civil service obstruction in his memoir. When he tried to stop aid going to jihadis in Syria, he was told it was not within his power, then that the decision came from a ‘small group’ of senior civil servants who outranked him. He called their bluff, exposing these excuses as false. But when he wrote to the prime minister, his draft was edited to remove his argument; when he reinserted it, they ‘lightly edited’ – i.e. re-removed – it. When he wrote his own letter to the prime minister’s foreign policy adviser, the chap refused to pass it on.

In my nine years in the House of Lords, I saw this at first hand. No matter how cogent my argument in the chamber, or even in a select committee, and no matter how polite the minister’s reply, most of the time she or he might as well have just been saying: Sir Humphrey says no. Who was the monkey and who the organ grinder? Parliament was mostly an elaborate charade. It was one of the reasons I decided to retire.

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Of course, ministers get to appoint the chairs of quangos but even that power is shrinking. Latterly, the Tories in government found that their preferred appointees were kept off shortlists by civil servants on some pretext or other. Partly this was ideological, anybody with a whiff of conservatism being deemed ‘not impartial’ (it happened to me), whereas lefties were fine, but a lot of it was just civil servants gradually expanding their power. I suspect the Starmer administration will not find it as easy as Tony Blair’s did to stuff their chums on public boards.

Wow, it’s a good thing nothing like that could ever happen to our Federal government…