There has been recent extensive press coverage (esp. in Telegraph‘ (de-paywalled link) of a ‘Senior Cabinet Office Official‘ sending a memo setting down severe restrictions on Government Networks asking for restrictions critical of government policy.
‘An “official-sensitive” email circulated across Whitehall warned that invitations should not be issued to individuals who have “spoken against key government policies”.Officials were told to carry out “due diligence” checks on speakers, including examining their social media posts….
The warning comes ahead of a new Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy being overseen by Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister [recently widely reported as threatening to withdraw levelling up funding from constituencies of MPs who voted against the social care settlement amidst a JR n its legality for partiality] , which Tory sources see as an opportunity to help eradicate “woke and politicised” practices in Whitehall.The note, sent by a senior Cabinet Office official, states: “We recognise that it is not always clear to determine whether an activity is deemed political or if an individual has spoken against key government policies. “This is why all cross-government networks must carry out due diligence checks on all speakers invited to events, and the content of any events and communications to ensure impartiality.”The memo continues: “Networks and their members must complete such checks to avoid any invitations being issued to individuals and/or organisations that have provided commentary on government policy, political decisions, approaches or individuals in government that could be deemed political. ‘
In terms of impartiality how can those criticizing government policy be deemed not impartial whilst those lauding it to the high-most or staying stum be deemed apolitical. This is a travesty of the notion of impartiality for which the civil service used to be famous for. If you did not know of this email you must intervene and withdraw it, if you did you must resign; otherwise rather than being an impartial civil servant offering firm but fair and impartial advice you have become a crude apparatchik camping down on free speech and dissent contrary to every principal of English Fair Play and Free Speech and the hard won but fragile political independence of the civil service. It is impossible to reconcile this memo of partiality falsely dressed as impartiality with the contents of the civil service code regarding giving evidence and all sides of an argument, to speak truth to power.
As the first Queen Elizabeth who founded the civil service as we know it stated:
This judgment I have of you: that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gift, and that you will be faithful to the state, and that, without respect to my private will, you will give me that council that you think best.
Please have a quiet work in the ear of Steve Barclay and the PM so this insidious drift toward orbanization of the English Body Politic ceases and you are not judges by history as the public servant that let this drift slide without resistance.
What is worse the ‘due diligence’ sections tries to get the whole civil service to spy starzi style on the whole social media output and free speech of speakers. How profoundly un-british – may I remind you that despite the views of the Lord Chancellor the right to free speech is a human right enshrined in British Law and those who believe in the rule of law, rather than arbitrary executive diktats, should uphold it.
Finally I note that all talks to Government Networks are under Chatham House rules, under which on many occasions I have advised governments fo all colours on my own specialism. The ’embarrassing leaks’ for these briefings were by those contemptuous of these rules. Please apply equal discipline on those who wish to shut down such discourse.