How the machinations of ‘The Blob’ have frustrated ministers


The Civil Service professes its purpose is to provide high-quality advice to the Government and outstanding services to the public.

There have always been accusations, however, that some civil servants make it their business to oppose and obstruct the ministers they are meant to serve.

Indeed, the Civil Service has been branded “The Blob”, initially popularised by Michael Gove when he was education secretary, then later by frustrated politicians.

Amid the ongoing culture wars being fought across Whitehall, these schisms appear to have reached new heights.

‘Battle of the trans flags’

One adviser said one such battle took place in June 2022, when a minister made it clear he wanted transgender flags removed from departmental social media profiles, which civil servants uploaded to celebrate Pride month.

“There was a look of horror on the face of officials when I mentioned this,” he explained.

Civil servants retorted that the Pride flag policy came from the “diversity agenda set by the Cabinet Office” and, said the aide: “After a week or two or trying, we were told because the accounts in question were quasi-independent government agencies, they had operational independence and we couldn’t touch them.

“To win the battle of the trans flags would have required a minister who is willing to sacrifice time doing their day job – actual government work like trying to keep doctors from striking – in order to fight Whitehall for a week or two.

“It might have required us to get a directive from the Cabinet Office which means spending political capital with No 10 all on what would seem to most ministers as fairly inconsequential, but, of course, it is not.”

The Telegraph understands that there have been many other skirmishes of this nature.

Under the banner of diversity and inclusion, some civil servants have been accused of being determined to push ideas around race and gender that many in the Conservative Party, and the wider public, would find controversial or even dangerous.

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, has been accused by some in the Government of allowing this culture to thrive.

‘Wokeness needs strong medicine’

The special adviser who fought the Civil Service over trans flags on social media accounts said: “Special advisers, ministers and some very brave civil servants fight the same skirmishes across Whitehall trying to fight back against the cancer of wokeism, but ultimately it comes down to the PM who should be issuing directives almost weekly on the subject.

“Wokeness in the Civil Service needs strong medicine, but all we seem to get from No 10 is the odd herbal remedy.”

Sir Jacob Rees Mogg, the minister in charge of government efficiency under Boris Johnson, ordered a ban on diversity, equality and inclusion courses offered to civil servants in the Cabinet Office and told Cabinet ministers to do the same for their own departments.

Sir Jacob also created a body to vet publicly-funded grants to charities to make sure taxpayers’ cash was not being given to woke initiatives or politicised charities hostile to the Government.

The grants ministerial oversight board was designed to prevent the “cascading” of public money, in which controversial transgender groups including Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence were receiving money from other charities that received government funding.

But when Mr Johnson was forced out of No 10 and Sir Jacob returned to the backbenches, the board was axed.

Sources close to Dame Priti Patel have described how she also encountered resistance from the Civil Service when she tried to make reforms during her time as home secretary.

Christopher Howarth, her former special adviser, said that when he discovered the Home Office was signed up to a highly controversial diversity champions scheme run by the charity Stonewall, he ended up in a fight.

Mr Howarth said: “When I told civil servants to end the Home Office’s membership of the scheme, they claimed the minister had not signed off on the decision.

“I made sure Priti had agreed to end the scheme and again the civil servants told me the decision should be delayed.

“By this time it was too late and Boris’s government fell.”

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