Saturday, October 15, 2011

The wider lessons of the Fox hunt

I've not blogged about Dr Fox. I'm glad he's resigned but I haven't felt that I've anything to add to the acres of comment that is available elsewhere. The Guardian has done a good job chasing this one down but so has the Times and the FT.

What really swung it for me was the evidence that Fox and Werrity were effectively running an alternative foreign in their meetings in Sri Lanka. There is a government that we need to be very cautious of, a government that still has questions to answer about the death toll at the end of the civil (questions that it doesn't seem to want to ask, let alone answer). And here are messers Fox and Werrity lobbying for influence and possibly contracts in a way that contradicted what the Foreign Office is trying to do.

It seems to me that one of the key things that this whole sorry affair raises is about the role of the civil service (who Fox and Werrity appear to have sidelined on a number of occasions). And this issue comes into even starker relief with the news from earlier this week (all but lost in the frenzy over the defence secretary) that Gus O'Donnell is stepping down as Cabinet Office Secretary and head of the home civil service and his job is being split up.

This is a major constitutional change and just appears to be being nodded through. It takes from the heart of the government machine a single pair of eyes watching over how the civil service and ministers are working together. Even Peter Oborne - not a man I often agree with - sees the danger of this as he explains here. He is also hugely critical of the appointment of Jeremy Hayward - a man as much a banker as a civil servant - to the role Sir Gus is vacating.

The Fox affair reveals a government at risk of blurring the lines between government and business, between a division of powers carefully balanced in our constitution and policy increasingly driven by lobby and special interest groups.

Whatever way we vote, whatever we think of the government, we need to be concerned when it seems that unaccountable people have more power and influence in our system than those properly recruited and trained to run the government machine alongside ministers.

1 comment:

Angela said...

I agree with you about Jeremey Heywood's appointment. And you are right, there seems to be less accountabilty than ever.