DANIEL HANNAN: If our civil servants were firing on all cylinders then rainbow lanyards might be a harmless indulgence. But this obsessive wokery makes them worse at their jobs

DANIEL HANNAN: If our civil servants were firing on all cylinders then rainbow lanyards might be a harmless indulgence. But this obsessive wokery makes them worse at their jobs

At some point in 2021, civil servants routinely began to add their preferred pronouns to their email signatures.

These pronouns are rarely surprising. I have never found myself thinking: ‘Thank heavens you gave me a steer on the she/her thing, or I’d have got it wrong.’

They are intended, in other words, not as helpful information, but as tribal signifiers, a way of saying: ‘I Am A Good Person Who Believes In Diversity’.

The trouble is that 95 per cent of the country are not part of that tribe. Or, more precisely, 95 per cent of the country believes that sex is a biological reality.

Every time government officials make these gestures, however apparently trivial, they remove themselves a little further from the public.

That is the problem Esther McVey is trying to tackle. In an impressive speech to the Centre for Policy Studies on Monday, she listed a series of common-sense ideas aimed at increasing efficiency.

One of them was to stop government departments hiring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officers without an explicit sign-off from the minister.

Another was to stop civil servants advertising political causes by, for example, wearing LGBT lanyards. Extraordinary, you might think, that these things need saying. Yet, the moment she finished speaking, our bureaucrats were rushing to prove her point.

‘Equality, diversity and inclusion is a serious topic worthy of serious consideration and debate,’ declared the civil servants’ trade union, the FDA.

‘Unfortunately, we got nothing of the sort from Ms McVey, who instead rattled off a tick list of culture-war talking points.’

To most FDA members, wearing a rainbow lanyard is not a political statement at all. In their view, it is more like wearing a poppy in the run-up to Remembrance Sunday, a neutral gesture of respect. Which is the point. When biases become so widespread in an organisation that no one perceives them as biases, we are dealing with what Lefties like to call an institutional problem.

Promoting EDI is not simply about having an inclusive workplace — something we can all agree on. It is about promoting a particular view of history and culture.

Another of Ms McVey's ideas was to stop government departments hiring Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officers without an explicit sign-off from the minister

Broadly speaking, EDI officers see the world as a hierarchy of privilege. At the top are white men, imagined as villainous Alan Rickman figures, and at the bottom are approved minorities.

You can agree or disagree with that view. What you can’t do is pretend it’s not a view at all, but an objective understanding of society.

Apart from anything else, the EDI obsession in our ministries, agencies and quangos is making them worse at their notional jobs.

The NHS, for example, employs twice as many EDI officers as it does neurosurgeons. We have had strikes over pay, yet it does not seem to have occurred to anyone to scrap these officials and hire an extra 1,000 nurses with the money saved.

If government were firing on all cylinders, perhaps we would be readier to buy the argument that diversity advisers and rainbow lanyards are a harmless indulgence. But what we have instead is a civil service that gets worse at carrying out its nominal functions as it becomes more obsessed with wokery.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there has been a 1.6 per cent increase in output per person since the start of the pandemic. Among government employees, however, there has been a net fall of 7.4 per cent.

At the current rate of decline, public sector productivity will have dropped by an extraordinary 20 per cent over the next decade. The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that the state must spend an extra £73billion a year to compensate.

While senior civil servants tweet their support for Black Lives Matter, our state machine continues to consume more and produce less.

The obsession with quotas in recruitment risks coming at the expense of meritocracy and, thus, of competence. In almost every department you can find underperforming officials who are protected by a culture of EDI and the accompanying terror of unfair dismissal claims.

Defenders of the system argue they are simply trying to reflect the country as a whole, but I have been looking at civil service fast stream recruitment statistics from 2021 — the most recent figures I can find — and they are revealing.

To most FDA members, wearing a rainbow lanyard is not a political statement at all

In that year, 23.3 per cent of recruits were from ethnic minorities, as against 14 per cent in the population as a whole. In the same intake, 58.6 per cent were female, as against 50.6 per cent of the country. And 19.6 per cent were LGBT, as against (depending on what measure you use) between three and seven per cent.

Plainly we are beyond representation here. This has more to do with righting imagined historical wrongs — and doing so at the expense of fairness today.

‘Well why haven’t the Tories done anything about it?’ I hear the question a dozen times a day.

The truth, which no minister will ever publicly admit because it sounds so wimpy, is that the tendency would be a lot worse if politicians were not there to mitigate it. We are dealing, remember, with officials who are — through their union — taking the Government to court over its attempt to crack down on illegal immigration.

A lot of the wokery that people complain of is in organisations that are beyond ministerial control, such as the National Trust or the Church of England. Some is in so-called arms-length bodies which are operationally independent. Ministers are thus in the uncomfortable position of having responsibility without power.

Ms McVey grasps that small things — like lanyards — set the tone. When a lot of people in a department are making a political statement which the minister has not approved, they are signalling to every new recruit that the way to get ahead is to champion identity politics, not to impress the Secretary of State.

The shift in power from elected ministers to unelected officials has been one of the most important, unremarked and malign developments of the past three decades.

Ms McVey holds the real-life job closest to that occupied by Jim Hacker, who was Minister for Administrative Affairs in the classic BBC comedy series Yes Minister.

But look at how far things have moved since that programme aired in 1980.

Back then, there was a rough parity between the two principals. Sometimes Hacker would win a round, sometimes he would be outmanoeuvred by his wily permanent secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby.

Nowadays, there would be no contest. All Sir Humphrey would need to do is accuse Hacker of bullying and the minister would be out. If you don’t believe me, ask Dominic Raab.

This is the imbalance at the heart of our democracy. Ministers cannot, in any meaningful sense, demote or fire officials, but officials can get rid of ministers.

That, in a nutshell, is why the EDI apparatus has grown up, why civil servants no longer trouble to hide their opinions and why, frankly, the state machine has begun to clank and wheeze.

Getting rid of the EDI officers and the lanyards won’t solve that problem.

But it’s a start.

Lord Hannan is International Secretary of the Conservative Party and serves on the Board of Trade.


Daniel Hannan

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