How to be a Civil Servant
Before getting to the quotations, let us remember that the patron saint of civil servants is Sir Thomas More - who famously asserted his integrity and stood up to the Government of the day (in the form of Henry VIII) ...... and got his head cut off. Confusingly, Saint Thomas is also the patron saint of politicians.
The Permanent Secretary at the Department of Transport made the following perceptive comment when questioned by the Public Administration Select Committee on 7 March 2002:-
This nineteenth century Liberal politician neatly summarised the different roles of Ministers and civil servants when he said that:-
This 1853 report catalysed the development of the apolitical UK civil service, recruited and promoted on merit rather than as a result of patronage. The authors noted that, at the time of their report:-
Developing the theme, Sir James made the following comment in his 1854-5 Parliamentary Papers:
These are indeed the indispensable disadvantages of the position of a clerk in a Public Office, and no man of sense and temper would complain of them. But neither will any real man of mental power, to whom the truth is know beforehand, subject himself to an arduous examination in order to win a post so ill paid, so obscure, and so subordinate or, should he win it, no such man will long retain it.
Soldiers are never fans of their civil service colleagues. Sir Walter's following comment was quoted in newspapers in 1981:-
This cry from the heart resonates down through the centuries as soldiers and civil servants remain subject to excessive audit and regulation:-
Whilst marching from Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French Forces, my officers have been diligently complying with your requests, which have been sent by H.M Ship from London to Lisbon and thence by dispatch rider to our headquarters.
We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s Government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, and spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg your indulgence.
Unfortunately the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensible carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstances since we are at war with France, a fact which may come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.
This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government, so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue either one with my best ability, but I cannot do both.
I am not entirely convinced that this is a genuine quotation, and confirmation either way would be very welcome. But, if it is not genuine, then it ought to be!
Exodus 18 contains an early reference to the creation of a civil service. Here, in verses 18-23, Moses' father-in-law gives advice to Moses:-
... select capable men from all the people - men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain - and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide for themselves.
That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.
"On the continent, rich and influential people, or those who have friends or relations in an office, may have their requests fulfilled. In England, there is no such corruption. Your obedient servant will just not do a thing, whoever you may be. And that is the real benefit of democracy."
"Admit your errors before someone else exaggerates them."
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