What the Butler Saw…

Lord Butler, the former cabinet secretary and civil service boss, has laid into how Blair’s government operates, accusing it of being obsessed with headlines. Interviewed in the Speccie he says “I would be critical of the present government in that there is too much emphasis on selling, there is too much central control and there is too little of what I would describe as reasoned deliberation which brings in all the arguments.” Spin? New Labour? Never.

He basically says that the government had a very thin case for war on WMD grounds and should have made the case on humanitarian grounds, which is what Blair does nowadays. Since there are no WMDs he doesn’t really have a choice. We all know Blair couldn’t do that because his own party wouldn’t vote for it on those grounds. So Campbell cooked up the dossier and Blair lied instead.

He also says that even domineering Wilson and Thatcher thought important decisions should be taken by Cabinet, but Blair decides using cliques of New Labour apparatchiks.

Boris says that Butler claims to have saved John Scarlett’s neck and he would have been ‘toast’, had not his committee specifically recommended that his job be spared. (Incidentally, if you watch the Beeb’s Spooks there is a slimy Spook boss who does political dirty work for his Downing Street masters. Who could they have based that character on?)

From the end of the interview with Boris;

‘I do think Britain is worse governed by the fact that the executive has got so free of any inhibition that is imposed either by Parliament or the public.’ No, says Robin, he doesn’t think it right that Labour should invoke the Parliament Act to overrule the Lords on foxhunting. ‘I don’t think that is what the Parliament Act is there for.

‘It is extraordinary and shameful that the House of Lords, which I am proud to be a member of but which is an unelected body, puts the inhibition on the will of the government (on Labour’s law and order agenda) and it is a shameful thing that the House of Commons doesn’t.

No, he says, of ID cards, ‘I don’t think the benefits will justify the cost,’ and he ends with a reminder of his own amazing achievements at the helm of Whitehall. ‘When the Tories came to power in 1979 the Civil Service was 735,000. By 1983, because of Margaret Thatcher’s diktat, it was down to 635,000. By the time I left the Civil Service, in 1998, some 15 years later, it was down to 450,000.’

Apparently the public sector has expanded to some 530,000 since Blair came to power, and last year alone central government grew by 14,800.

Unsurprisingly Howard is making much mischief out of the old mandarin’s extraordinary attack, I wonder if Boris served the Butler a drink or three at the Speccie’s offices? Maybe Butler is embarrassed by the timely whitewash job he did with his inquiry. Boris certainly seems to have got some ammunition for his party leader to use. Maybe Boris is actually more use to the Tories as a journalist than a shadow minister.

In any event it looks like the Butler will be off Blair’s Christmas card list.




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