Tory grandees defend civil service ‘doing their job’ after Raab accusations

Former Tory Cabinet ministers Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Fowler praised the ‘loyal’ civil service.

Two Tory grandees have come out in defence of the civil service, after former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab hit out “activists” in their number with a “passive aggressive” agenda against him.

Mr Raab, who resigned last week after Adam Tolley KC upheld two bullying complaints against him, accused some civil servants of trying to block Government policy, because they disagreed with it.

However, two former Tory Cabinet ministers insisted that the civil service is “loyal” and what may be interpreted by some ministers as obstruction is actually them just “doing their job”.

Lord Young of Cookham, who served as a minister for 21 years under five different Conservative prime ministers, said: “My experience is you don’t get the best out of civil servants by shouting at them.

“There is no organised conspiracy to frustrate the will of ministers.

“What some ministers may see as obstruction is civil servants doing their job by pointing out the adverse consequences of certain policy options.”

Lord Young, whose ministerial career included time as transport secretary, leader of the House of Commons and chief whip, added that he hoped any review of the complaints procedure would be debated in the House of Lords.

Lord Fowler, who served in Margaret Thatcher and John Major’s ministries and now sits as an independent crossbencher in the Lords, praised the civil service for its “exceptional advice”.

He said: “As someone who headed four separate Government departments, all under Conservative Governments, can I say that in my experience, overwhelmingly, the civil service was both loyal and gave exceptional advice to the Government.

“Would it not be better to look at the quality of special advisers, who sometimes exhibit neither of those qualities?”

Lord Fowler
Lord Fowler headed up several Government departments in the Thatcher and Major governments (Archive/PA)

Lord Fowler, who headed up the departments of health, transport and employment during his time in the Commons, later served as the Lord Speaker from 2016-2021.

However, Lord Lilley, who headed up the department for trade and department of work and pensions under Margaret Thatcher and John Major – said that, while he also had a good relationship with civil servants, some ministers “perceived” a reluctance to implement Government policy.

He said: “I was very fortunate, like Lord Fowler my officials were a joy to work with throughout, but some ministers have perceived some officials to be reluctant to implement their policies and have had to try and find ways of dealing with that.

“And some officials have perceived ministers’ response trying to get them to do that as abrasive, demanding and rude.

“I sympathise with those who had to duck telephones thrown by Gordon Brown or deal with Richard Crossman [Cabinet minister under Labour prime minister Harold Wilson), who said in his diaries that, when he found officials reluctant to do his will, ‘I bullied them and made a fool of them in front of others, quite often their subordinates’.

“I suspect that such an approach was counterproductive, but would the minister agree it is up to the electorate or elected superiors to get rid of ministers who can’t deliver, not officials?”

He added: “Isn’t it important to recognise that ministers have no power to select, reward, promote or demote officials working for them? Likewise, officials should not have the power effectively to dismiss ministers for whom they work least of all by making anonymous complaints against them.”

Cabinet Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe, who has worked as a civil servant, a political advisor and a minister, said: “The Prime Minister has been clear that the civil service is vital to the work of the Government.

“The Government greatly values the work of civil servants who, together with ministers, are working to deliver for the British people.

“The Prime Minister has accepted the resignation of the Rt Hon Dominic Raab, the former deputy prime minister, following the findings of Adam Tolley KC in a published exchange of letters.”

She added: “The constitution has these different parts – it has ministers, I think political advisers are very important and very helpful, and in most cases they work well with the civil service.”

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