David Cameron aides at war with Civil Service in battle of Downing Street

Strategy chief's 'Bungalow Bob' jibe at top mandarin in clash over reforms

Relations between senior civil servants and Downing Street are at an all-time low, with both sides engaged in a bitter blame game over the Government's recent political travails.

One source yesterday described the atmosphere in Whitehall in the past month as "bloody", with officials and politicians blaming each other for the failure to get the Government's message across and clashes over plansfor Civil Service reform.

On Wednesday, Ian Watmore, who was in charge of cutting costs across government departments, quit as Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office. Several Whitehall sources told The Independent he decided to leave after falling out with the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude – with whom he had previously had a good relationship. "It would be fair to say that they used to get on well but things deteriorated in the last few months and Ian became more and more detached," said one.

"The top of government is not a pretty place at the moment."

Another source of tension has been disputes between David Cameron's combative head of strategy, Steve Hilton, and the Head of the Civil Service, Sir Bob Kerslake.

Although he is leaving Downing Street at the end of this week, Mr Hilton has infuriated senior officials by departing in a blizzard of anonymous briefings.

Sir Bob blames Mr Hilton for leaking details of a private meeting they held to discuss plans for Civil Service reform – due to be announced this summer.

Mr Hilton is said to have walked out of the meeting after seeing Sir Bob's proposals, which were described as "the kind of thing you would expect from a second-rate human resources department".

Mr Hilton is also believed to have referred to Sir Bob as "Bungalow Bob" and suggested he was trying to protect under performing civil servants from reform. Sir Bob is said by his supporters to have described Mr Hilton's suggestion of cutting the central Civil Service by 90 per cent and outsourcing most of its policy work to think tanks and the private sector as "nonsense".

Mr Hilton was also accused of being unprofessional: turning up at the meeting in shorts and a T-shirt, clutching a plastic bag full of oranges. As the meeting went on, Mr Hilton is said to have started "inexpertly" peeling an orange, getting juice all over the "crotch of his brushed cotton shorts".

But Mr Hilton is not the only senior aide around Mr Cameron to have expressed anger at the performance of officials. The Prime Minister's spokeswoman, Gabby Bertin, has been heard to complain at the poor service press offices in Government departments are providing Number 10 in identifying and promoting eye-catching initiatives to help the Government.

But this is dismissed by senior civil servants. They describe the political appointees in Downing Street as "flailing around" with no sense of clear strategy and being led by the latest shifts in polling.

The spats are beginning to filter through to wider Civil Service perceptions. Civil Service World magazine released details this week of a poll of almost 1,400 senior officials which suggested some now felt promotion was being increasing driven by political considerations.

Asked if they believed that people have been appointed to jobs on the basis of their connections within, or experience with, the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, 55 per cent of civil servants in the Cabinet Office answered Yes. Across Whitehall, civil servants also expressed fears about about being able to provide "impartial, honest and open advice to ministers".

Felling blue? Tories who lost their 'Sir Humphreys'

Michael Gove

The Education Secretary's disagreements with his Permanent Secretary, Sir David Bell, saw the department lose its most senior civil servant last year. Mr Gove is said to have been unhappy about the support he was receiving from officials and about what he believed were leaks orchestrated by pro-Labour staff.

Francis Maude

Reported clashes between the Cabinet Office Minister and his Permanent Secretary, Ian Watmore, saw Mr Watmore quit only six months into the job. Mr Watmore – a former head of the FA – allegedly became "increasingly detached" after being undermined by the appointment of Sir Bob Kerslake as part-time Head of the Civil Service.

George Osborne

The Treasury lost the director of its international department, Nicholas Joicey, earlier this year – although this time it was the prospect of conflict rather than the real thing that led to Joicey leaving his post. The civil servant is married to the Labour shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Rachel Reeves, and he quit before his marital status caused him problems with his boss.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement