The only thing more remarkable than the number of classified documents the Home Secretary leaks to her mentors, is the number of civil servants leaking to the newspapers about Braverman leaking the documents.
In her brief period(s) as Home Secretary, civil servants have separately leaked to the papers:
the fact of her emailing classified documents to backbench Tory MPs and others;
that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was furious at her reappointment;
that civil servants were disquieted by her briefings of backbencher John Hayes inside the Home Office;
that Braverman ignored legal advice over responsibilities at the Manston detention centre;
that Braverman vetoed planned hotel bookings for Manston detainees because the hotels were in Tory areas.
Those are just the stories I happen to have picked up. I have never seen anything approaching this volume of civil service leaks against a minister. Clearly Braverman has completely lost the Home Office dressing room.
For decades, the position of Home Secretary has been used by both Labour and Conservative parties simply as a platform for winning votes through right wing populism. The last reforming Home Secretary in the UK was Roy Jenkins in 1976. Since then the only liberal tenure was the brief one of Kenneth Clarke. The rest have been a nightmare of slogans on fighting drugs, terror, crime and immigration.
The massive social disaster of the counter-productive “war on drugs” is but the most glaring example of the practical result of a fifty year Home Office policy of aggressive stupidity when faced with any problem.
Given the consistent anti-liberal bias of the Home Office, it naturally attracts civil servants to work there who tend to side with the Department’s underlying stances. You do not get what Braverman herself calls “the Guardian reading, tofu eating wokerati” at the Home Office. You get a lot of people who think like Theresa May and rather enjoy creating hostile environments for people – yet that is the kind of audience Braverman has managed to alienate.
By all accounts Braverman has done it largely by what she would call iconoclasm and I would call being unnecessarily rude to staff members who ask you to consider why, from their experience, there is another way of doing something worth considering. Braverman is substantially hated by her senior staff.
I do not know how the civil servants are coping. When Braverman talks in parliament about an “Invasion” of immigrants just after one of the terrorist followers of her philosophy attempted to kill specifically children of migrants with petrol bombs at a reception centre, it creates a dilemma for the civil service – practical as well as ethical.
Speeches for ministers – and carefully crafted compendia of replies to possible questions that may arise – are written by civil servants. They are not drafted by the Institute of Economic Affairs or by the Centre for Policy Studies. They are written by civil servants.
I did this job for years. You inherit many pages of past speeches and prepared answers, encapsulating the agreed official wording on the subjects you cover. You amend the wording only where a minister signs off new wording in response to a written submission (that may entail copying in other government departments affected, who have also to agree any new wording), or where a minister themselves institutes new wording in amending a draft letter or utterance you have prepared for them.
Minor alterations of phrase with no difference in meaning or practical effect can just get added in without fuss.
The minister’s job is to stick to the agreed wording they have been given as the official government line, cleared within Whitehall and in line with policy agreed in writing. 99.9% of the time ministers do this, bar the odd retort or witticism which they understand, if on subject, has to stick within the official lines. Even Boris Johnson, who would generally reply to questions or interventions by an attack on another subject entirely, would normally stick to official government lines when discussing the matter in hand.
Braverman however careers dangerously off piste at will. Referring to migrants as an “invasion” is inflammatory and liable to incite violence against them.
There had been no government agreement to characterise migrants in this way, her own media department did not know it was coming and were not ready for the backlash. Her casual characterisation of Albanians per se as criminals had not been cleared – as it should have been – with the FCO. She is the loosest of loose cannons.
In the normal course of events, civil servants preparing Braverman’s speeches and briefings would now have to incorporate the new lines on migrant invasion and Albanian criminals into the material. Personally I never had to try retrospectively to clear with other government departments very stupid language my minister had used. At a minimum the foreign office,the ministry for local government and the cabinet office should have been consulted in advance on what Braverman said. They were not.
Where civil servants cannot agree language between departments, the matter is referred up to their ministers. Where they cannot agree, it is sent to the Cabinet Office where, in cases of real dispute, a committee will meet and prepare a report, and ultimately the Prime Minister will decide. I have been through all these processes personally.
I suspect Braverman has by now been less formally told to tone it down. But stirring up racial hatred is the right wing Tories’ basic weapon. I fear more will follow very quickly.
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