I don’t know whether Kwasi Kwarteng was right to insist on the departure of Tom Scholar from the Treasury. Though I’m concerned that the Government’s dash for growth by borrowing money may be no more successful than the Heath Government’s dash for growth by printing money.
However, I do know that some of those protesting about Scholar’s dismissal – suggesting that the new Truss Government is riding roughshod over decades of good practice, and breaking new ground by politicising the civil service with no regard for impartiality – have short memories.
For no less a person than the man who later became Labour’s last Prime Minister got rid of a Permanent Secretary. And the man he let go as Chancellor was…Permanent Secretary at the Treasury.
“Gordon Brown axed his then Permanent Secretary, Sir Terry Burns, along with a number of senior officials,” writes Patrick Diamond of Queen Mary’s College. The Independent reported Burns as taking early retirement in 1998. ” ‘Rift’ claims as Treasury Chief retires,” its headline ran.
“Observers say Sir Terence…failed to shake off his Thatcherite image and was repeatedly squeezed out of key policy discussions by the Chancellor’s ‘inner circle’,” the paper continued.
Burns discussed his difficulties with the former Chancellor later in an interview with Civil Service World. ” ‘It was more difficult,’ says Burns, ‘I wouldn’t say so much to do with Gordon Brown as an individual, but the sort of circumstances and the way in which work was carried out under the new government from ‘97 onwards was much more difficult.’ ”
“He refers to the Labour government’s style of deciding policy ‘to a much greater degree in private’, rather than through the process-driven policy formation he was used to, with civil servants present at meaningful debates around the chancellor’s table.”
You may reply that at least Brown waited a year – and that Burns, in the manner of these things, gained a peerage. But while New Labour went about its business in a silkier way, the essence of the decision is the same: a Chancellor getting rid of a Permanent Secretary he believed he couldn’t work with.
I won’t go further – and get into the detail of the politicisation of the Downing Street Press Secretary post under Blair, and “the hasty departure of numerous directors of information” from Government departments.
The quote is from Nicholas Jones’s The Control Freaks: How New Labour gets it own way. “Nine of the seventeen heads of department in place at the time of the election claimed that they had been eased out within a year…a year later all but two had either been removed or left the Government,” he wrote.