First he came for the Blob – now he comes for the Civil Servants: Gove rants again

Janet Downs's picture

‘Gove rants at clock-watching civil servants’

Sunday Times, 21 January 2018

The Environment Secretary  ‘accused senior civil servants of blocking new policies’, the Sunday Times wrote.  

We’ve been here before.  When he was education secretary, Gove constantly accused teachers and academics of getting in his way.  They were ‘enemies of promise’ and members of the Blob. 

Now Gove’s turned his sights on civil servants.

A ‘cabinet source’ said Gove accused civil servants of working their 37 hours and then leaving on Wednesday afternoon.   An alternative voice, ‘another insider’, told the paper, ‘Gove went on a rant…’

This is not surprising.  Anyone who has read David Laws’ account of the Department for Education under Michael Gove will know Gove’s fabled charm slips to reveal a blistering temper when he’s opposed.

According to The Times, Gove asked the Prime Minister if civil servants still worked for ‘12 hours and get two days off’.  The PM was reported to have replied:

‘It’s called flexible working Michael, and we as a government support it.’

But would this flexibility allow civil servants to work two 12-hour shifts and one of 13 hours without breaks in order to leave after Wednesday? 

The answer is – it’s unlikely.  The Civil Service handbook on flexible hours says no civil servant can work regularly ‘a week of less than five working days’.  There are exceptions – part time workers and those working ‘compressed hours’ such as working 37 hours over four days.

There can’t really be many civil servants with compressed hours.  Rules require civil servants to be present during ‘core time’, several hours during each day when they're expected to be at their desks.  Flexible working only applies to hours outside core time.

Gove’s dig at civil servants came before the leak revealing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson intends to step on the toes of Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt during Cabinet today by demanding extra money for the NHS.

Johnson and Gove seem to be best buddies again despite Gove knifing Johnson during the post-Brexit leadership challenge

Gove’s intervention, The Times said, coincided with the attack on the PM by former minister Nick Boles.   May was timid, only appointed ‘wet ministers’ and ‘just blunts everything’.

Boles, a long-time Gove ally who (mis)handled Gove’s leadership bid, invoked a ‘wonderful George Orwell essay about Englishness’ where Orwell described ‘boiled rabbits of the left’.  The government, Boles said, was ‘full of boiled rabbits’.

Boles needs to look again.  The essay referencing boiled bunnies wasn’t about Englishness* but one explaining how Orwell could be both a socialist and a patriot when Britain was fighting Hitler.  The cooked rodents were left-wing intellectuals who opposed the war and mocked British common culture.  ‘Only revolution can save England’, Orwell wrote, ‘I dare say the London gutters will have to run with blood.’

Boles should be careful what he wishes for.

*Orwell’s famous essay on Englishness is England Your England.   The boiled rabbits appear in My Country Right or Left, written in 1940 a year before England Your England.    

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John Bajina's picture
Tue, 23/01/2018 - 12:55

Thank you for the insight. Having followed the nature of these Ministers, this behaviour makes sense. Impractical, right wing policies are somehow expected to be made to work by Civil Servants. It all smacks of old fashioned, out-of-touch thinking. This is neither practical nor desirable.
High time for a change.

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