30 August 2012


It is not unknown for public servants to harbour uncertainty about the motivation of politicians and to mutter in confidence with colleagues about the commitment as they see it, to the public good.

Politicians in turn seem perpetually surprised by the caution shown by officials, their ingrained practice of recording all supporting evidence for a particular course before acting, and their reluctance to respond when circumstances clearly call for a passionate and impulsive response.  The current climate is that views of many offiicals differ substantially from their Ministers.

The Guardian yesterday published comment about the ability of the UK Treasury to support a U turn by the Government if Ministers conclude that a different approach to tackling Britain’s economic woes is necessary – the purport being that where you have good government, you have officials not only striving to give effect to the policies of government, but always maintaining a capacity to sharply change direction, if that is the wish of Ministers.  Part of the responsibility of officials is to support MPs appointed to the executive, to ensure the stability of government, and to give effect to the expectations of Ministers by strengthening the rationale for their decisions .

But officials need to appreciate the trials and tribulations  experienced by politicians who believe the burden of democracy they carry and their pursuit authority to exercise decision-making  discretions is deprecated.

An anecdote told at dinner last night by a politician’s wife may be illustrative  the trials.

In much of Britain, houses still have a “hole” in the front door for mail delivery.  Postal workers would drop letters through the door – and within living memory there was both an early and a late delivery each day.

The wife of a prospective politician in the West of Scotland, despite her reluctance, was cajoled with her children into delivering campaign leaflets championing his candidacy. The wife was directed by her husband to ensure the leaflets were pushed fully though the mail hole so that they would not be caught in the door and the message never read.

At one house the wife made sure she pushed her hand well through the hole as directed, ensuring the leaflet dropped into the entranceway. However the household dog seized the delivering hand. A tug of war developed for the return of the hand.  The dog’s teeth began to shred the hand.  When eventually recovered, substantial surgery was required.

(From observation almost a year after campaigning, the injuries are extensive and permanently disabling.  The wife’s interest in supporting the politician is substantially diminished!)