The Civil Service and the People

The Civil Service and the People by R W Rawlings was published in 1945 at the end of the Second World War.  Links, below, will take you to individual chapters.  I have added occasional quotations so as to give you a feel for the contents of each chapter.

It would be good to know more about Mr R W Rawlings.  Please email me if you have any information.

Political Context

Mr Rawlings describes himself as a socialist and he was clearly somewhat sympathetic to Marxism.  He was not therefore typical of the vast majority of his generation - but most of his concerns (as distinct from his policy responses) were shared by many others.  Voters were in particular concerned about the threat of post-war unemployment and they showed, in the 1945 General Election, that they expected Clement Attlee to be much more effective than Winston Churchill in responding to those concerns.  Attlee repaid their trust in him by implementing many of the reforms proposed in the 1942 Beveridge Report.

David Kynaston's Austerity Britain offers a peerless description of the post-war years.  And his brief mention of the Civil Service of the time rather reinforces Mr Rawlings diagnosis:

"[Initially quoting Correlli Barnett: ']  The civil service elite was in the method if its selection, in its concept of its role and in its way of working a Victorian survival overdue for root-and-branch modernization, ... This elite being a stem of the liberal Establishment, its members were mostly the fairest blooms of an arts education at public school and Oxbridge.' 

Unsurprisingly, he adds, their knowledge of the outside world was 'largely restricted to the City, Oxbridge senior common rooms and what they read in The Times.   ...  Take Sir Edward Bridges, Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.  He was the son of a Poet Laureate; he did not pretend to know about economics; and in lectures and writings he celebrated what he liked to call 'the principle of the intelligent layman'.  No-one disputed his intelligence or administrative capacity, but his relationship with the real economy was at best tenuous. ...

Admittedly the workings of government have always been an easy target, but to read William Cooper's novel Scenes from Metropolitan Life - a robust and intimate portrait of post-war Whitehall ... - is on the whole to have one's prejudices confirmed.  It depicts a world of (to quote the critic D.J. Taylor)' highly intelligent men' absorbed in 'bureaucratic fixing and power-broking', between them 'conspiring to influence the world of "affairs" in the not quite conscious assumption that the whole business is an end in itself'.

Some of the above themes can be seen in the debate that preceded the 1968 Fulton Report.  And further information about Civil Service Reform may be found here.

Introduction and Chapter1 - What is the Civil Service?

"[The facts] seem to lead to one inescapable conclusion that ... the Civil Service as a whole has been unable to get very far away from the aims and purposes of the small minority which from time to time has controlled the destinies of our country. ... When, for instance, nepotism and patronage gave way to open competition and a cleaner Civil Service, it represented a change forced upon the possessing class of the day by the requirements of an expanding industry and economy. ... If [the post-war] system remains predominantly capitalistic then it is clear to me that all its glaringly obvious defects will continue to find a place within the service. ... The growing knowledge that [civil servants] are in the long run nothing but instruments of an elaborately disguised class domination ... is making the Civil Service a breeding ground for neurosis and every kind of frustration.

Plans for a better Britain, [rest on the] organizational enthusiasm with which they are handled by the appropriate departments.  This in turn can only be assured by having a politically and socially conscious Civil Service ... only a socialist state can evolve a Civil Service freed from its present disabilities and defects, and equipped with the outlook and initiative necessary to tackle the constructive tasks which lie ahead."

Chapter 2 - Pay and Pension

"In circles where prejudice, ignorance, or more commonly a disguised vested interest are the ruling motives, the civil servant is criticised because of his preference for security of tenure rather than the precarious hazards and occasional glittering prizes associated with employment in the industrial and commercial world.   To the extent that this is true, it provides an illuminating commentary of the system which produces, side by side, two such different sets of conditions of employment and rewards for two sections of the workers, between whom no artificial distinction should need to be made."

Chapter 3 - The Promotion Bugbear

"... although in theory every clerical officer can secure promotion out of his class, in practice he must ... be content to live out his Service life within the class which his educational opportunities and the economic position of his parents have earmarked for him."

"[Reporting officers are] required to appraise annually the quality of every officer eligible for promotion, under the following headings:-

  • manner and address;
  • energy;
  • courage;
  • leadership;
  • penetration;
  • constructive power;
  • judgment and common-sense;
  • output;
  • quality;  and
  • in the case of supervising officers, effectiveness of organization and method

and, in respect of each one of these categories, he is to state whether the subject of the report is outstanding, very good, satisfactory, indifferent or poor.

(There is no marking, be it observed, for N.B.G.)"

Chapters 4 - The Housing Problem  and  5 - Background and History

"Many government offices are glorified dustbins compared with those which house the employees of the banks, ..."

"Capitalist production demanded all sorts of facilities which were not profitable for itself to provide.  A regular postal system became a prime necessity. Roads were built ..."

"It is fascinating to observe how the experiences of today in the sphere of Civil Service reform repeat at a higher level those of a hundred years ago."

Chapter 6 - The Policy Makers

"The general rules laid down for the conduct of civil servants carry the implication of undeviating loyalty to the state irrespective of what government may be in power.  No attempt ... has ever been made by those responsible for framing these rules to define the state, and one is left to assume that they would do anything to avoid such a responsibility."

Commenting on the Civil Service Entry Exams with their inbuilt preference for Oxbridge and the humanities:-

"The administration of the Public Health Services, social insurance, Public Assistance and the fiscal system call for qualities of imagination and vision which no examination system in the world can unassisted hope to reveal. ... The Civil Service Commissioners have introduced ... the viva voce ... a type of test ... bound to offer scope for class prejudice."

Quoting Harold Laski:-

"  "... our methods of administration produce ... a race of officials who have sacrificed experimentalism and audacity for soundness and the desire to be thought a 'safe man'".  To which ... it is only necessary to add that experimentalism may be of more than one kind and we should [create a framework within which the Civil Service can experiment] to the benefit rather than the detriment of the community.  The result of overlooking that necessary precaution might well be to encourage the sort of administrative experimentation associated with the fascist state."

Chapter 7 - Science and the Professions in the Service

"If after the war [government controls over manufacturing processes] are removed, then science and the professions will again be at the beck and call of the private capitalist."

Chapter 8 - The Service Trade Unions

This chapter is a useful summary of the history of trade union membership in the civil service including the Union of Postal Workers, the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, the County Court Officers' Association and nearly 200 others!  "That [number] is, on occasion, as much a cause for despair as for self-congratulation ... but it does serve to reveal the completeness with which civil servants have accepted the principle of collective action."

Chapter 9 - Whitleyism 

"The Service trade unions are not the only machinery at the disposal of civil servants for the ventilation of grievances and the settlement of disputes."

"The reluctance of the government to introduce the Whitley system ... has already been observed."

Chapters 10 - Arbitration  and  11 - The Service Press

"The Civil Service Arbitration Court was set up in 1925, not without considerable opposition from the government ..."

Introducing:-   Red Tape,  Post,  Taxes,  Argus,  Civil Service Opinion,  State Service,  the Whitley Bulletin,   Civilian, and  New Civilian.

Chapter 12 - Civil Liberties for Civil Servants

"The civil servant ... is to dress himself up as a sort of moral and political eunuch ... He enters the Service as the novitiate enters the order or convent ... the civil servant must be not only immaculate but emasculated ..."

After civil service unions organised collections for a fund for relieving distress amongst miners taking part in the 1926 General Strike, this and similar 'political' activity was made illegal by Section 5 of the 1927 Trade Disputes Act.   "Practically the whole of the Civil Service trade union movement would welcome, and indeed is working for, its early demise."

Chapter 13 - Women in the Civil Service

"... the attitude of the Treasury towards equal pay and the conditions under which women are employed in the Civil Service are largely influenced by the fact that monopoly capitalism still depends upon the maintenance of the family as an economic as well as a social unit."

"[The continued employment of women in the Civil service] has only been on the basis of re-engagement in a temporary capacity and the end of the war may well see the automatic termination of service of a considerable number of able and experienced officers.  This is, indeed, inevitable if the sex war which followed upon demobilization in 1918 is allowed to break out again ..."

"The nature and purpose of any sate apparatus can in no better way be judged than its attitudes towards such question s as equal pay and the marriage bar.  By that touchstone our own Civil service again fails to measure up to the standards adopted by the Soviet Union, where the right to work of every able-bodied man and woman is constitutionally guaranteed."

Chapters 14 - Criticism,  15 - The Service in War-Time,  16 - The Civil Service and Controls  &  17 - The Social Significance of the Service

These chapters contain interesting commentaries on contemporary (post-War) issues including '[criticism of the Civil service] from ill-informed members of the public who have come to regard every form issuing from a government department as a personal insult, or from representatives of vested interests seeking a screen for their anti-social conduct together with their gullible supporters.'

Chapter 18 - The Post Office

A short history, and current issues.

Chapter 19 - The Future of the Civil Service

"[The Civil Service's] class divisions ... maintain the class traditions of society as a whole ... the scientific and technical staffs' ... divorcement from departmental administration has deprived them of the opportunity of influencing the direction of its policy."

"There is a strong feeling within the Service itself in favour of a one-grade structure into which every entrant no matter what level of educational attainment should be recruited. ... One thing is clear, that in the promotion system of the future there must be equal discouragement both for mediocrity and the superficially equipped 'flyer'."

"The Service must take its quota but at the same time it must safeguard against the blunders of 1918, when it pitchforked ex-service men into jobs for which their abilities and aptitudes ill fitted them."

"... it becomes the business of all of us to welcome every move to democratize the British Civil Service, ... and to encourage it to come forward for the first time in history as the representative of the whole of the people."

Appendix I - Staffs of Government Departments
Appendix II - Civil Servants with HM Forces
Appendix III - Representative Capacity of National Staff Side
Appendix IV - Civil Service Staff Organizations


Cover and Contents



Martin Stanley

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