Observations of an ex pat: Kings of all trades

They know everything.  That is why they were elected to high office. President Trump is not only a high-flying real estate tycoon. He is also a top flight climatologist, superb firefighter, expert military strategist, brilliant constitutional lawyer, intelligence supremo, trade negotiator without equal and peerless economist.

Brexiteer Boris Johnson’s years as a scribe and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s banking experience have clearly made them detailed specialists on every aspect of British life likely to be touched by Brexit , which is—everything.

The knowledge of these men is truly staggering.  They could save British and American taxpayers hundreds of billions of pounds and dollars by dismissing great swathes of civil servants.  It is clear that that those highly paid “experts” at the Bank of England, British Treasury and the Office of National Statistics are at best ill-informed, stupid or just plain dumb. At worst they are “the enemy within” or “enemies of the people.”

As Prime Minister Theresa May continues her whistle-stop round Britain tour to sell her “best deal possible” Brexit plan,  civil servants have been lining up to point out the gaping pitfalls in her plan and the chasms if Britain goes for the no-deal alternative advocated by Jacob, Boris and co. Every single government department—and a number of independent think tanks—say that Britain will be worse off leaving the EU whichever route is taken. The no-deal plan would shrink the economy by 8-9 percent overnight, slash house prices by 30 percent, cost £100 billion, and collapse the pound by 25 percent.

All of these dire warnings from every quarter of every governmental department have been branded “Project Hysteria,” by the high priest of Brexit Jacob Rees-Mogg.  His acolytes at The Daily Express urged its readers to ignore their paid advisers as “they have been proven wrong time and again.”

Britain has one of the most competent civil services in the world. The world’s oldest civil service is Chinese. It started in the third century BC and became an object of admiration for the British from the 17th century onwards. In 1829 they decided to give it a go in India when the patronage system was replaced by a civil service examination. It was a resounding success and the system was adopted back in Britain in 1854. From there it made its way across the empire and beyond.

The civil service changed government appointments from a basis of who you know and/or how much you were prepared to pay for a position, to an administration based on the then revolutionary idea of finding the best qualified person for the job.  The result was a permanent, unified  and politically neutral cadre of experts whose career depended on their expertise rather than the patronage of a politician.

The system works like this: Every year thousands of people take a civil service exam. If they pass they are offered secure, well-paid positions with good pensions. Over the years they develop a specific expertise in the government department to which they have been assigned and as their knowledge grows so does their salary.

Politicians are elected to office on the basis of their judgement and the policies that they present to the public. They are elected for their political beliefs, not for their expertise in a particular field. Once they are in office they are advised by the civil service on the best way to implement those policies. A big part of the civil servant’s job is to inform the politician—and the wider public—of the consequences of a policy decision. If they do not tell them; if they tailor their reports to suit their political masters, then they have failed.

As for the politicians who ignore them, or condemn their advice? Well, my suggestion is that if they ever need a lifesaving operation– consult the plumber.

* Journalist Tom Arms is vice-chairman and secretary of Tooting Liberal Democrats and a regular contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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  • Peter Martin 30th Nov '18 - 9:57am

    “Britain has one of the most competent civil services in the world”

    I must say I don’t know enough about everyone else’s to have an informed opinion. But we need to be wary of these kinds of statements. We’re told often enough that we have the world’s best legal system and police etc. If you’re taken in by all this, think Birmingham 6, Guildford 4 and Hillsborough.

    I guess you’re thinking of Treasury/OBR economic forecasters who are, generally speaking, quite hopeless. They have the advantage of weather forecasters in that we can remember what the Met guys have said about the weather the day before but we’ve all forgotten what the Treasury said about the economy several years ago.

    According to this 2010 budget forecast we should be in surplus by now. This is just fantasy economics. A budget surplus for the UK is neither possible nor desirable.


  • Malcolm Todd 30th Nov '18 - 10:50am

    “The no-deal plan would shrink the economy by 8-9 percent overnight, slash house prices by 30 percent, cost £100 billion, and collapse the pound by 25 percent.”

    No. No, it almost certainly wouldn’t, and that is most certainly not what the Bank of England has said. It is what the Rees-Moggs of this world want you to think the BoE has said, because it’s so obviously over the top that they hope it will discredit the Bank entirely and therefore discount the much more sober and sane warnings that it is actually giving.

    Don’t do their work for them. This sort of hyperbole and misrepresentation doesn’t help anyone.

  • Laurence Cox 30th Nov '18 - 10:52am

    Even more than the politicians, this soubriquet should belong to journalists who, like the harlot, enjoy power without responsibility. Some of the worst offenders, like the aforementioned Boris Johnson, are both.

  • My father (a diehard Conservative) used to talk about ranting Liberals. I begin to see hat he meant! This contribution is wonderfully (and maybe somewhat justifiably) angry, but it gets us nowhere in terms of real politics, I am afraid.

  • John Marriott 30th Nov '18 - 4:18pm

    Did anyone hear Jacob Rees Mogg’s comment following Mark Carney’s B of E report? He described him as “a second tier Canadian politician”. Wrong on most counts, Mr Mogg. Whilst he is indeed Canadian (it would appear that he was a High School student in Edmonton, Alberta, at the same time as I was teaching in the city), Mark Carney has spent a distinguished career in finance and before he came here was Governor of the Bank of Canada, hardly a basket case of a country.

    As far as I know, that latter position, like his current position, was apolitical. It’s typical of Mr Rees Mogg and his ilk, who seek to denigrate people with whom they disagree, civil servants, who only have our nation’s best interests at heart and who are tasked to tell it as they see it, however unpalatable to some this may be. Given that a ‘Canada Plus’ deal is one that many arch brexiteers favour, it’s surprising that Mr Rees Mogg is so quick to demean one of our staunchest allies in this way.

    You can be sure that the Rees Moggs of this world will be fine whatever happens. Hasn’t he already moved some of his assets to Dublin? Mr Mogg should keep his ‘catty’ comments to himself unless he can find something more constructive to say.

  • My father was a low-grade civil servant – a “clerical officer”. He believed in the “ethos of the service,” so much so that if a fraud or hardship case came up in his work at the old DHSS he sometimes brought work home to expedite the process. He saw this a quid pro quo for the conditions of service – good pensions etc. I’m not sure that he would recognise what has replaced all that!

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