MPs attack top civil servants over Thatcher tribute

Head mandarins praised Lady Thatcher as the 'best kind of boss'

Britain’s two most senior civil servants have been accused of “prostituting” their office and “deserting political neutrality” by writing a fulsome public tribute to Baroness Thatcher following her death.

In a fierce attack MPs accused Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, and Sir Bob Kerslake, the head of the civil service, of wading into controversy by penning an article praising Lady Thatcher as the “best kind of boss”.

A Labour member of the Commons Public Administration Committee, said the piece was a “clear breach of the traditional neutrality of the civil service” while the committee’s Conservative chairman questioned whether they had been “wise to enter this controversy”.

However Sir Jeremy defended their decision to write the piece saying he “didn’t think it was a political article at all” adding “it didn’t make a comment one way or the other about her politics”. “The article was about the civil service’s relationship with Margaret Thatcher as a person, as a human being,” he said.

In their article, which appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the two men wrote that in contrast to her public persona Lady Thatcher was a keen supporter of the civil service's “values of impartiality and integrity”

“Contrary to what many have suggested,” they said, "Mrs Thatcher never sought to staff No 10 with 'Yes men' or civil servants who shared her politics. 

“Above all, she valued civil servants who did not simply defend the status quo (and) who could back up their arguments with clear evidence.”

They then noted that she would even “nourish her civil servants with home-cooked shepherd's pie whenever they were working late”.

“To the country she was an Iron Lady, to those who worked with her she was a kind and considerate boss,” they concluded.

But the veteran Labour MP Paul Flynn demanded Sir Jeremy apologise for the “overtly political nature of the article” which also quoted Mrs Thatcher’s “radical tax reforms, the introduction of Right to Buy, a major overhaul of industrial relations law and the world's first privatisation programme”.

“The main controversy in the country, which may have passed you by, is the verdict on Margaret Thatcher’s time in Government. It divides the country and it divides this House,” he said.

“You wrote an article which was entirely sycophantic about the role of Lady Thatcher and laid no kind of criticism whatsoever.

“It was clear breach of the tradition and neutrality of the civil service,” he said.

Sir Jeremy said he did not think it was “a fair characterisation of the article at all” and that the article had been about “the civil service’s relationship with Margaret Thatcher as a person”.

But Mr Flynn countered that she had sacked 171,000 civil servants which “was not as popular as the shepherd’s pie she served to them late at night”.

Sir Jeremy reiterated that the article had not been intended to either “praise or attack her policies”.

Later, before walking out of the committee meeting, Mr Flynn retorted: “You prostituted your high office and deserted your political neutrality.”

But the letter has also attracted criticisms from senior Conservatives. Bernard Jenkin, a Tory MP who chairs the committee and was a friend of the late Lady Thatcher asked: “In retrospect, do you really think this was wise to enter this controversy?” he said.

Earlier the Tory MP Aidan Burley said: “Jeremy Heywood and Bob Kerslake would be wise to concentrate on their day jobs.

“It beggars belief that they should take it upon themselves to draft such a sycophantic article – have they not got more important things to do, like inform the decisions of the current Prime Minister?”

Even senior Government ministers are said to have private reservations about the wisdom of writing the article. One Government source said “eyebrows had been raised” when the piece was published.

• In a separate development the Government has announced it will be conducting an internal investigation into the arrangements for Lady Thatcher’s funeral. Although the ceremony passed off smoothly some invitees had to have the invitations couriered over to them – because of delays in administration. Some were also delivered by civil servants who lived near-by.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Mock the tweet: Ukip leader Nigel Farage and comedian Frankie Boyle
peopleIt was a polite exchange of words, as you can imagine
Life and Style
fashion
Life and Style
Britons buy more than 30 million handsets each year, keeping them for an average of 18 months
tech
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain