Celebrating 15 years of CSW: are you sure about that, minister?

Written by Beckie Smith on 26 February 2019 in Feature
Feature

As Civil Service World celebrates its 15th anniversary, Beckie Smith has trawled the archives for some of our most memorable moments. All this week we’ll be sharing the best bits from articles and interviews, as well as some of the jargon that has stood the test of time.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. We suspect that given the chance, some of these prominent politicians might like to revise their earlier statements.

Don’t bet on it, Osborne – 8 February 2005

Years before his stint as chancellor, a youthful George Osborne was shadow chief secretary to the Treasury when Michael Howard was Tory leader. In 2005 he told Whitehall & Westminster World of his party’s prospects at the looming general election: “The advantage that Michael Howard has over his two immediate predecessors is that, as far as the public is concerned, he looks like a potential prime minister.

“Obviously, the battle in the election is about persuading voters he is the right person to be prime minister, but at least people can imagine him in Downing Street.” Reader, they could not.

Railing Grayling – 24 Oct 2006

A 2006 edition of Whitehall & Westminster World found the then-shadow transport secretary lambasting the UK’s rail network. Grayling’s gripes included capacity constraints and overly-involved officials – “they even have a team of civil servants writing rail timetables”. He wrote: “But I also believe we need a less fragmented railway. Passengers need to know who is in charge. Decisions that could ease overcrowding need to be taken quickly.”

CSW wonders if Grayling remembered his comments when the Office of Rail and Road found “nobody took charge” of dealing with last year’s train timetabling debacle. Grayling admitted accountability for the botched schedule change was “too diluted”, and the Transport Select Committee later called the railway a “fragmented, over-complicated system with competing contractual interests”.


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Be that as it May – 10 March 2010

If Theresa May had prime ministerial ambitions in 2010, she wasn’t letting on. Asked what her dream cabinet post would be, the then-shadow work and pensions secretary didn’t bite.

She did have a few words to say on what makes a great politician: “I don’t think it’s right for a politician to micromanage.” She added that ministers should have “a clear sense of direction in terms of the agenda and policies that they want to put in place, and a willingness to be open to debate.” Would she say the same today?

Surprise, Sir Bernard – 5 Sept 2012

Sir Bernard Jenkin – whom many a strong-stomached civil servant has faced in his role chairing the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee – was once concerned too many senior civil servants were being knighted without having gone “above and beyond the call of duty”. “No-one should be honoured for simply doing the day job, no matter what that job is,” the MP for Harwich and North Essex wrote for CSW.

Readers may wonder if he felt that way when he received his title last year. “I feel very honoured and humbled that the work I have done in parliament and in my constituency has been recognised,” he told his local paper.

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Beckie Smith
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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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