While most of our free and fearless press has returned to speculating about the effects of the Coronavirus, the row begun when Home Office Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam resigned and effectively accused Priti Patel of being a bully and a liar is showing no sign of dying down. Worse, it is now becoming clear that Rutnam may be only the first of many at the top of the Civil Service to throw in the towel and resort to law.
The possibility that the Coronavirus may not be the only form of contagion worrying those in Whitehall was manifested by fans of alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson rushing to condemn Rutnam, almost as soon as he had announced his departure from the Home Office. As so often with Bozo boosters, it was the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog who put the boot in first.
A particularly nasty and sneering denunciation tells readers “Rutnam plans to sue the government for constructive dismissal and says what has happened is part of wider pattern in government. He’s right about the latter, they’re trying to get rid of dead wood … His career hasn’t exactly been marked by starry success, a few more of these obstructive civil servants should go pour encourager les autres to get with the programme. He should have been fired a long time ago”. It wasn’t the first Fawkes kick at Rutnam.
The previous week, the Murdoch Times had compiled a list of “disasters” that it alleged were down to Rutnam. These included the abandonment of the franchise award process for the West Coast Main Line in 2012, but how a Permanent Secretary is supposed to be involved in supervising those bids is not told. It was just another smear.
So was the similarly-briefed Mail on Sunday article yesterday that dubbed Rutnam’s “career a 'litany of failure’. And allies of the Home Secretary declared victory last night, claiming the former banker 'knew he was toast' and had 'jumped before he was pushed’ … One source claimed Sir Philip's public civil war with the Home Secretary was 'the only way to save face' after his position became untenable”. Smears and more smears.
But why bother with those smears? They won’t sway an employment tribunal, or any other recourse to law. Ah well. That is not their point. Notice that The Great Guido used the phrase “Pour encourager les autres” (as well as the meaningless “get with the programme” - like, what programme?). Les Autres, the others, is what now worries the Tories.
Because The Others may be about to follow Rutnam in resigning and then claiming constructive dismissal. The clue will be to watch for right-wing press and new media denunciations of senior mandarins in the next few days and weeks. Those kinds of denunciations - like the carefully-briefed smear of Rutnam given to the Murdoch press - are the outward signs of top Civil Servants being softened up for a kicking.
Dominic Cummings seems to believe that Government can function perfectly well with rather fewer Civil Servants. He may be about to be able to put his theory to the test.
Then we’ll see just how brilliant Polecat Dom really is. Or, as is more likely, not.
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