Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Who's right: the Home Office bosses' union or John Reid?
Is it the Home Office that is 'dysfunctional', as John Reid has claimed, or is it Reid and his predecessors as ministers who are mainly responsible?
As a Home Office employee who was sacked so as to cover the lies of Home Office senior civil servants and ministers, I find the comments by Jonathan Baum of the top civil servants' union, the First Division Association (FDA), not credible. The truth is hidden behind the understatement: that ministers have been 'not very competent'. To be sure, they have been grossly incompetent, not to mention deceitful. They are very much part of the problem, but the problem is much wider and lies at the heart of the Home Office.
It was so blindingly obvious working within the IND (Immigration & Nationality Directorate) nothing at all within the immigration system worked, that it simply cannot be that ministers are responsible for the bottomless mess in the Civil Service and by contrast, senior civil servants are blameless. If ministers left the Home Office completely to its own devices, with no political targets to meet, then the immigration system would be even more exposed for what it is: no system at all. There is no immigration system beyond what is really rubber stamping and tokenism. Other than that, the immigration system consists of a continuous PR exercise to try to convince everyone that there is one.
Senior civil servants lied when they passed the blame downwards to lower management within the Sheffield office of managed migration when it happened to be in this office that the complete failure to apply the immigration rules to whole steams of casework and sometimes across the board was revealed.
Senior civil servants even commissioned a whitewash report - the Sutton report - to try to make this lie stick. For those who actually read the report, in conjunction with the investigation into my disclosures, it was all too apparent that the blame lay at the top, not near the bottom. For Jonathan Baum to complain that top management is unfairly attacked when they cannot answer back is more than a bit rich. What about the staff that top brass unfairly denigrate? Not only can they not answer back, but if they try they are either demoted or lose their jobs - and may be falsely accused of racism to boot.
The Home Office is still claiming a public interest defence as to why it will not disclose any documents to/from senior management and ministers regarding the illegal failure to apply immigration rules in regular backlog clearance exercises coded 'BRACE' - which still went on after I came forward and are still practiced today. This is despite non-compliance notices served by the Information Commissioner's office, which continues to back my efforts to secure disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act - a request I submitted back on January 3, 2005, just three days after the Act came into force. Given the war between the Home Office and Government, then why is the Home Office not now revealing what went on if it is all the fault of ministers? Answer: because mandarins and senior managers are the culprits at least as much as are ministers. Given that it would be the ministerial more than the Departmental fan that the proverbial would hit, then evidently mandarins feel they have a lot to answer for.
Looking at the wider IND debacle: senior civil servants have a clear public duty to alert not just ministers but cross-party committees, the National Audit Office and other regulatory bodies to what is clearly not working and unfeasible. A system as dire as that of the IND is not something that has formed over the course of one Government but over several. So mandarins do not have the excuse that they protested but were unheeded by their political masters. Why was nothing done ten years ago when the administration changed political hue?
The only explanation is that the rot is not merely the fault of incompetent ministers, or that politicians generally are profoundly out-of-touch. It must be that the wider political class - including senior civil servants - are radically out-of-touch, with a head-in-the-sand attitude to reality in the service of sticking to political shibboleths.
Yes, certainly there has been the problem of people clearly unsuitable to manage large organisations being put in charge; and yes of course there has been a wholesale politicisation that has not only neutralised healthy inertial response to unworkable policy proposal, but has led to a chronic short-termism that fatally channelled energy and attention to meeting Government political targets and away from the job itself.
Looked at one way these are contributory roots, but they are really themselves symptoms of a kind of political madness. The madness was evident daily in my working life at the Home Office. Instead of the job we were supposed to do, what obsessed the Department right down to the line managers of junior caseworkers were tangential matters.
Not only was there a relentless target culture of meeting stats irrespective of how completely we were made to fall down on the job, but a pervasive culture concerning 'equal opportunities and diversity' that actively oppressed staff and 'celebrated' all that was 'other': not least the non-native people whose applications we were supposedly processing. This provided excuse and even vindication for what in any other light was doing the job extraordinarily badly, if at all.
Instead of training that anyone could see would be essential - such as what the passports of different countries looked like, and how we could spot forgeries: which we never received - we were sent on courses concerned with an equal opportunities informed attitude to co-workers. The IND was more concerned with forcing behaviour change between staff than with properly dealing with applications to migrate, even when they were clearly and systematically fraudulent.
What was (and is: it continues of course) down to an overt political attack on ordinary and perfectly decent people, went hand-in-hand with a wilful failure to act in a gate-keeping role to would-be new entrants to Britain. Political correctness fascism in its various manifestations was pursued zealously, as if this focus on meta-work made up for abject failure in the main task at hand.
A similar unholy alliance of outlook was evident in all sub-divisions of the Home Office, not least the Probation Service. As the recent news, an Employment Tribunal case, my own experience in failing at the final recruitment hurdle, and an insider's view in the Sundays this week all testify: there is an attitude to criminals that they be shown 'empathy' rather than be controlled. 'Empathy' is a mantra at the PS, and is a consideration that amounts to criminals being held in higher regard than the public. There could be no more supreme irony given that the probation service is supposed to be protecting us from the very criminals in its charge. 'Empathy' explains the astounding level of direct sex discrimination against male would-de recruits.
The same outlook again was apparent in the plethora of units set up to enact some latest initiative, together with the research sections that academics have now called to boycott because of the findings deliberately twisted to suit the Home Office's own bizarre take on its own motto ('building a safe, just and tolerant society'). A classic case was the team that produced the Sexual Offences Review ('Setting the Boundaries') that gave us the absurdly Kafkaesque new rape laws. There are examples wherever you look in the Home Office: radical mismanagement and political correctness fascism of some form have been productive bedfellows. The mindset that allows this farce is evident across the political class and beyond; certainly not just in politicians per se.
The First Division Association's attack should be taken at most as a corrective to John Reid's 'not me guv' hand-washing. Ministers certainly are guilty of foisting on the Home Office policy that they know will not work - we know that New Labour has never wanted an immigration system to work, but instead an open door to further the championing of the political Left's 'internationalism' and its political correctness fascism of holding in esteem the foreigner over the native; especially given that new entrants will disproportionately vote Labour. Even so, still more guilty is the Home Office for not only presiding over this disgrace but actively colluding in disguising the reality from scrutiny - and scrutiny not just by the general public, but by official bodies whose job is regulation to ensure that government departments work in the public interest.
John Reid certainly is himself part of the great immigration fiction that the Government continues to flog us; but nonetheless, his attack on the Home Office as 'dysfunctional' is closer to the truth than is the senior civil servants' union's attack on him.