There were some pretty fatal flaws with Stalin’s policy of five-year plans. Someone at the centre of government determining the exact number of tractors or tonnes of coal to be produced. Isolated from reality, these announcements were to give the impression of control, and be used as a mechanism to enforce the will of the state. There was, of course, no way to determine the exact number of tractors that would be required – how could there be – but that didn’t stop them.
Which brings us to Friday’s announcement that 91,000 jobs are to be cut across the civil service. This announcement was made in Pravda – formerly the official newspaper for the Communist Party in Russia but now the new name for the Daily Mail. The Politburo had met earlier that day to inspect production facilities at a regional factory, in this case a pottery in Stoke. They had also taken the decision that the civil service would be transformed back to how it had looked in that perfect moment in time, 2016.
The Politburo applauded such great wisdom and a memo was drafted to all the Chief Operating Officers instructing them to execute this strategy forthwith. The letter made clear that the civil service had grown in size in the last years. “This has been in response to a range of events, including the pandemic,” it said. The Politburo had decided that there would be no mention of Brexit, as the readers of Pravda may be confused as to why so many loyal workers of the state were required to deliver the Great Leader’s flagship policy.
I could continue, indeed I may, but let’s unpick this announcement for a minute. The idea that picking a moment in time as representing the perfect size of the civil service at some point in the future is, of course, absurd. It would be absurd at any point, but since 2016 we’ve exited the European Union and taken on some pretty significant responsibilities (which I thought was the point), faced a once in a century global pandemic which poses long term health and economic challenges and caused significant backlogs across the public sector, and now entered a new cold war.
"The idea that picking a moment in time as representing the perfect size of the civil service at some point in the future is, of course, absurd"
It is beyond irrational to suggest therefore that this is the figure that should be used to plan for a workforce of 450,000 civil servants, across hundreds of organisations delivering vital public services. It represents a cut of 20%, to apparently be achieved over the next few years. Not a problem, according to the man from the Ministry of Information Jacob Rees-Mogg, as natural wastage will mean it can be delivered in two years, exceeding Uncle Joe’s expectations.
Is the Ministry of Defence to face a 20% cut in the middle of a conflict on the European mainland and a new cold war? Is the Border Force to be cut by 20% as we face unprecedented numbers of asylum seekers trying to cross the channel? What about the Department of Health and Social Care, with its responsibilities for “living with Covid” and tackling the enormous backlogs in the NHS? Or Defra, whose workload has expanded exponentially with new responsibilities after Brexit? Then there’s the new immigration system, the end of free movement, customs checks… the list goes on. Are all these departments just to turn the dial back to 2016?
Pravda had helpfully calculated that the average civil service salary was £28,000, so this would save £3.5bn. However, this raises the question of whether it will be 91,000 staff on the average salary. Is it a mix of grades? Does it matter? Will departments be tasked with just delivering the right number to gain Uncle Joe’s approval? Of course, answers were there none from the Minister for Information who’d been tasked with the broadcast round.
Out in the factories there was of course consternation. Why do the Politburo treat us this way? Why do we have to learn about this from Pravda? Is that really the way to treat loyal workers of the state? Had not the Minister for Information and other Politburo members recently been on the airwaves decrying the practices of a rogue capitalist employer, P&O Ferries, who had treated their loyal workers in such a way, announcing job cuts by Zoom?
The truth, of course, is that it doesn’t matter, none of this does. The figure is incapable of scrutiny because it is not actually intended to be scrutinised. Pravda got its headline and the government convinced itself that the proletariat would be reassured.
I’ll finish on the theme with a quote that is attributed to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, though I’m unable to establish for sure, so don’t @ me, scholars, if it’s not.
“We know they are lying. They know they are lying. They know that we know they are lying. We know that they know that we know they are lying. And still they continue to lie.”