Steve Hilton’s denunciation of the Civil Service earlier this month should be taken lightly. David Cameron’s former adviser, who in the early days of opposition leadership set his employer on a democratic bike while his shoes travelled behind by Lexus, has made a habit of attacking public servants for standing in the way of government ministers pleasing sectional profit. It is, the argument goes, undemocratic: power in the hands of unelected bureaucrats – the habitual drone of interested parties. This is the language used of the BBC by politicians compliant to the point of servitude with Rupert Murdoch.
Nobody elected Murdoch or his editors. Nobody elected Hilton. Nobody elected Michael Ashcroft or the staffers he has effectively paid for. The paid-for-from-general-revenue senior civil servant, discouraging this or that idea attractive to the government’s commercial friends, is not elected either. But nor is he owned, salaried or on-call to corporate interests. He might become so, but should he serve a second master, he enters dangerous ground and risks consequences, not perhaps enough, but such as to encourage prudential, even honest conduct. The civil servant standing in the way of schemes narrowly attractive to those investing in them is indeed unelected, but also disinterested, also a public servant. Whom does Hilton serve? Whom does he want Cameron to serve?