18 April 2012

Siobhan Benita and civil 'service'.

From the website of Siobhan Benita, the independent candidate for Mayor of London:
Siobhan joined the Civil Service in 1996 and worked at the very heart of Government for over 15 years. As a senior official at the Cabinet Office she led major projects across Government and has worked with ministers and officials at the very highest levels. Siobhan knows how political decisions get made and is experienced at working with a range of senior people - from across the public and private sectors - to get things done.
From her interview in the Guardian on Saturday:
But, she says, she was losing faith in the power of the civil service to keep politicians in check: at the Department of Health, where she worked, Andrew Lansley was rolling out a plan of reforms she felt she could never help implement. "I'd always believed in public service as a way of doing good, but I started to realise that the way I'd done it wasn't going to work any more."
So did she spend 15 years exercising "the power of the civil service to keep politicians in check"? Or did she spend it "working with a range of senior people...to get things done"? Or is she saying that when she agreed with something she was the epitome of bureaucratic endeavour - and when she did not like something, she blocked it?

While it is admirable that she has resigned from the civil service in protest at the Lansley health reforms, it is disgraceful that she has done so because she couldn't keep the Secretary of State "in check". It's not the job of the civil service to keep politicians "in check". That's what Parliament, the media, civil society are for. Yes, Minister is a satire, not a training aide.

It would seem that she ate her cake and had it while being employed by us to serve the politicians we elected. I'm Labour to my core but I would rather have the elected Lib-Cons doing bad things accountably than unelected Siobhan Benitas "doing good" unaccountably.

I welcome that more independent candidates are getting heard and elected in politics. Parties are crucial to democracy but our current models of participation are not fit for how we communicate, act and vote in the digital-leisure age. That partly explained the Bradford West by-election result. Independents could give the incumbent political machines the scare we need.

But let's not fool ourselves that every person who comes along with independent (or Respect, for that matter) scrawled across their website is some great anti-establishment challenger. Indeed, of the seven candidates standing for Mayor of London on 3rd May, Benita, in both attitude and personal history, is the most establishment of them all.

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