Most of the time, politicians can put on a front to counter rumours coming out of the Civil Service. Disagreements are not really happening, they’ve been exaggerated, there will be a leak inquiry, nothing to see here, move along to the next item dredged up by the 24-hour news Speculatron. But today has brought the opportunity for that front and bluster to be tested against reality. And that’s bad news for one Tory minister.
To no surprise at all, that minister is Priti Patel, inexplicably given charge of the Home Office, which means she is in charge of MI5. This only looks less bad when one remembers that Dominic Raab is in charge of MI6. There had been rumours of friction between Ms Patel and Philip Rutnam, her top Civil Servant. These had been brushed off and rubbished by her press pals. And then Rutnam resigned.
The BBC appeared surprised. “The top civil servant in the Home Office has resigned and said he intends to sue the government for constructive dismissal. Sir Philip Rutnam said there had been a ‘vicious and orchestrated’ campaign against him … BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said such a move was ‘highly unusual’”. I’ll bet she did.
Over at the Guardian, there is a little more substance. “He said he had been accused of briefing the media against the home secretary, Priti Patel, – an accusation he said was ‘completely false’ … ‘The home secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet office. I regret I do not believe her,’ he said. ‘She has not made the efforts I would expect to disassociate herself against from the comments.’” Ouch!
Rob Powell of Sky News has gone into some detail on Rutnam’s very public and highly unusual statements: he was “ - Pursuing court action against Home Office for constructive dismissal - Says he is victim of vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign - Says he tried to reconcile with Home Sec but she will not engage”. And there was more.
Rutnam “ - Says his experience is extreme but he believes it's part of a pattern of behaviour - Has received allegations that Priti Patel shouts, swears at and belittles civil servants - Believes that Patel had involvement in the briefings against him … Utterly extraordinary for a top civil servant to speak out like this and make allegations of this nature against a cab minister. Questions for Mark Sedwill too - Rutnam says the cabinet office offered him a ‘settlement’ which would have avoided him resigning in this way”.
Paul Brand of ITV summed it up. “Absolutely extraordinary resignation in which Sir Philip Rutnam: - accuses Priti Patel of lying - says she shouted and swore at civil servants - says he was offered money to go quietly - will take his claim to court”. The Government, it seems, tried to hush it up. But Rutnam has declined to go quietly.
What will any court action reveal? Well, consider for a moment Otto English’s reminder of his Byline Times assessment: “take a moment to revisit Priti Patel's lacklustre career, which has been dedicated to the promotion of one thing - herself”. Ms Patel and her supporters have to ask themselves one question: is she really as brilliant as the right-wing press pretends, or is she an inept bullshitter promoted way beyond her ability?
I know which way my Occam’s Razor is pointing. Benidorm resort rep squeaky bum time.
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