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
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'