The Secret World of Whitehall
Has anyone else been enjoying 'The Secret World of Whitehall', the latest documentary series by Michael Cockerell? The three part series, which has been on BBC 4 over the last few Wednesday has been a revealing look at some of the key departments at the heart of Government over recent decades.
I've been enjoying it, not only as it's been feeding the politics geek in me, but because I think it has some useful insight for those engaged in campaigning.
I'd love to to hear the reflections of others who've been following the series, here are a few thoughts to start the discussion.
Culture matters. It's clear listening to the interviews with the Permanent Secretaries and other staff that every No10 has had a very different culture when it comes from decision making, and that culture is driven by the man at the top. Tony Blair had his 'sofa' cabinet, keen to make decisions while being advised by a handful of close advisors, whereas Gordon Brown was keen to review everything and read extensively before making a decision. Clearly this is a theme that's been addressed in many of the autobiographies that have come out of special advisors in recent years, but it's a good reminder of the importance of understanding how each different government works.
But culture goes beyond the way that decision making happens, to permiate the whole way that those at the top work. The times of day that key meetings (and who's invited), who's involved in forward planning announcments, etc. The series has been a good reminder of the way that every government is different. This article on Conservative Home is a good primer for the way the current incombants are approaching this.
The battle between Civil Servants and Political Advisors will never cease! One of the strongest themes that has come out of the programme so far is the ongoing battle between political advisors (those who are appointed by the Prime Minister and have often been with them in opposition) and the career Civil Servants who serve the office of Prime Minister which ever part is in power.
Episode 1 told a story of an advisor and a senior civil servant staying later and later to ensure that they could be the last person to put a briefing in the PMs Red Box. It's clear from the series that while many of the Civil Servants are unhappy with the growing importance of the Advisors, but for campaigners looking to influence the government recognising the importance of the advisors and considering how to influence them is clearly something that isn't going to change.
Finally, I'm struck by how much traditions still matter. It appear to me that, whomever is in power, their are certain traditions that seems to stick. Ways that things are done and the way that the permanent staff conduct business. Traditions that campaigners would do well to learn.