Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bureaucrats running the army?

These articles from The Economist are about a lot of things. They're about the recently resigned Minister of Defence, Liam Fox. He resigned because of a questionable relationship with a friend who "wasn't" a lobbyist. The articles are also about military planning and organization. But the topic that is probably most important to students of comparative government and politics is that of the role of senior civil servants and their relationships to the government.

On the defensive
THE resignation on October 14th of the defence secretary, Liam Fox, almost a year after the publication of the landmark Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), was the last thing either Britain’s beleaguered Ministry of Defence (MoD) or its armed forces needed. Dr Fox leaves behind much unfinished business for his successor…

Dr Fox’s departure followed a torrent of embarrassing newspaper revelations about his working relationship with Adam Werritty, a close friend and self-styled “adviser”. But despite Dr Fox’s poor personal judgment and disregard for the rules (see article), he will be missed…

A year on, the SDSR is still controversial. Its critics say it was a rushed job that neither cut deeply enough to put the defence budget on a sustainable footing nor made the right choices about which capabilities to reduce…

It looks as if one of the ideas in the SDSR—that there should be five essentially identical multi-role brigades—will be quietly junked in favour of “tailoring the force for the challenge” around two light and two heavy brigades which will draw on other resources as needed…

Ministers v mandarins
AS HE settles into life on the back benches, Liam Fox has the consolation of a partly, though not wholly, salvaged reputation…

Sir Gus O’Donnell, Britain’s top civil servant, looked into the matter and reported back on October 18th. He found no evidence that Dr Fox had profited from the access he gave Mr Werritty, or that any public money was misused. Mr Werritty received no classified information and did not influence British foreign policy…

The real implications of the Fox affair are not for David Cameron, the prime minister, but for the way politics is done—perhaps tilting the balance of power in favour of the civil service. This could happen in two ways. First, Sir Gus’s report makes recommendations that would tighten a department’s grip on its minister…

The second way in which the permanent bureaucracy could be emboldened is by a mooted clampdown on lobbyists… If the result of this and other new rules is that ministers see less of outsiders, the influence of their mandarins is likely to grow.

There is a tension in the government between reforming ministers, keen to push power away from central government in areas such as education, welfare and policing, and their more cautious civil servants…

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