LEO McKINSTRY: As a top civil servant who oversaw asylum policy joins charity critical of immigration controls, is this proof our ‘Rolls Royce’ civil service is now a clapped out campervan full of radicals?
Britain was the pioneer of Parliamentary rule, but today our democratic system looks dangerously weak.
Despite winning a large majority at the last General Election, the ineffectual Tory Government is in office but not in power. Ministers pull policy levers and nothing happens. Instructions are ignored, new initiatives blocked.
To critics, this unelected, unaccountable fiefdom is known as the Blob, taken from the 1958 U.S. science-fiction movie about an aggressive alien entity that absorbs and destroys all in its path.
Michael Gove gave the term its currency in modern British politics, when, as education secretary in the Coalition Government, he spoke of fierce opposition to his school reforms coming from an alliance of Left-wing campaigners, trade unionists, bureaucrats and activists determined to protect the status quo.
There has always been widespread cynicism towards the idea of the Blob.
Some see the concept as nothing more than a figment of the Tory Right’s imagination. Others view it as an excuse for the Conservatives’ own failings and unpopularity.
But it is becoming harder to maintain such a dismissive attitude in the face of mounting evidence of the campaign within the state to thwart Government and the will of the British public.
This week, a spotlight was shone on the realities of the progressive ascendancy at the Home Office, when it was announced Emma Haddad, former director general for asylum and protection in the department, is to become a non-executive director of the charity Amnesty International, which has long been one of the Government’s most ferocious opponents on immigration.
Indeed, with its habitual self-righteousness, Amnesty has described government attempts to tackle the people-smuggling racket in the English Channel as ‘inhumane, racist and divisive’.
It says everything about the values of the permanent bureaucracy at the Home Office and the stranglehold of the Blob on Whitehall that Britain’s former head of asylum should take up a position at Amnesty, an organisation that loathes the very concept of tough border controls.
No asylum chief who actually believed in the rigorous maintenance of our national integrity would dream of joining an outfit like Amnesty.
But Ms Haddad, currently chief executive of St Mungo’s charity for the homeless, fits into Amnesty’s softly-softly culture where immigration is concerned, thereby confirming the view of many senior Tories that she was a key part of the resistance to the Government crackdown on border anarchy.
Her thinking was reflected in ridiculously lenient guidance — as revealed recently in The Mail on Sunday — that the Home Office gave to caseworkers assessing asylum claims. It included warnings not to be sceptical or to adopt any form of interrogation the applicant might find traumatic. No wonder under this feeble regime, three-quarters of claims are accepted in Britain, compared with barely a third in France.
With a Master’s from the European Institute in Florence, a PhD from the London School of Economics in ‘international relations and forced migration’ and a stint as a ‘national expert in migration’ at the European Commission, Ms Haddad was never going to be an advocate of taking back control.
Her case perfectly exemplifies how the metropolitan liberal class has taken charge of our country without ever winning an electoral mandate.
At her old Home Office base, the Blob’s defiance of government policy is stark.
When Home Secretary Suella Braverman announced her plan to use Rwanda as a base for illegal migrants, posters and stickers appeared around her department saying ‘no to racist deportations’.
Braverman also attacked Whitehall’s obsession with training in diversity and inclusion, arguing it fostered divisions, wasted public money, promoted an ugly political ideology and fuelled a climate of grievance.
The result? The number of civil servants receiving diversity training at the Home Office has more than doubled.
One of the most fervent of diversity course enthusiasts is Sir Matthew Rycroft, the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary — who boasts of being Whitehall’s champion of ‘race’ and of ‘faith and belief’ in successive years. His credentials in this regard seem more impressive than his managerial competence.
Home Office asylum caseworkers process just one a week on average, which helps to explain why the backlog is now 175,000, adding to a sense of Government impotence.
Administrative ineptitude has even been weaponised against Ministers, as happened with the barge Bibby Stockholm, meant to be used as emergency accommodation for asylum seekers.
After legionella bacteria were found in the water supply, the first residents had to be evacuated. Politicians were blamed. But why did officials not complete the tests before anyone boarded?
This pattern of obstruction is repeated across Whitehall and other parts of the public sector, where anti-Tory rebellion takes several forms. One is the spread of disruption through industrial action and absenteeism — far higher in Whitehall than in the private sector.
At the Ministry of Justice, which presides over the shambolic courts system, staff on average take 12 days sick leave a year. That’s the same Ministry of Justice where civil servants forced out lord chancellor and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab by painting him as a bully.
His real offence was not so much his managerial style as his demand for a tough approach to tackling criminality — against the progressive idea that offenders need support rather than punishment.
The strength of the Blob is also reflected in the close relationship between the Labour opposition and Whitehall, as laid bare by the recent decision of top civil servant Sue Gray to become Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.
She had been presented as such a paragon of impartiality that she had the highly sensitive job of investigating lockdown breaches in Downing Street during the pandemic.
Effectively, the fate of Boris Johnson was in her hands, yet it now seems she was already looking ahead to a future role.
Equally striking is how the Blob presses ahead with its own social justice agenda, regardless of opinions of elected ministers. Public buildings are decked in rainbow colours, staff urged to use the right pronouns, wear Pride badges, and join networks of minority pressure groups.
Departments used to focus on delivering services to the public. Now they are citadels of social engineering, indoctrination and groupthink.
If not being instructed to ‘celebrate diversity’, they are being sent on training courses in Critical Race Theory and Unconscious Bias.
One official said of Antonia Romeo, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice: ‘During my entire career, I have never seen anyone push the woke agenda harder.’
Indeed, managers like her compete to win the official approval, not of ministers, but of self-appointed watchdogs of diversity such as the Stonewall transgender rights group which has created a climate of witch-hunting in Whitehall.
The Civil Service used to claim it was a ‘Rolls-Royce’. Today, it is a clapped-out campervan full of earnest radicals. Depressingly for the Tories, this decline has accelerated in the 13 years of their rule.