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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

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

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions