Simon Carr:

The Sketch: A deadly weapon called civil service syntax

Dame Helen has a manner like the incoming tide. She is unstoppable

Share
Related Topics

The PR battle over the UK Border Agency isn't going so well for the authorities. They talk too much and say unkind things. People don't like that. The bosses may well have told Brodie Clark not to do what he did – but even when they're right, they sound wrong.

Dame Helen Ghosh – the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office – refuses to release documents to the committee; she deploys civil service syntax like an offensive weapon; and she has a manner like the incoming tide. She is unstoppable. Keith Vaz tried to block, then divert, then slow her down.

As her opening remarks rolled on – "complex delivery department... understanding the risks the department carries... the high-level briefing across all focusing on areas of interest..." – Vaz was interjecting: "Yes. Indeed. Of course. We'll come on to that. All that. We'll come on to that." But the best he could do after her first 300-year answer was to say: "So your answer to my question is 'no'."

She is a severe product of St Hugh's college, Oxford. Her mouth turns down disapprovingly. She has such an intelligent manner you assume she is saying something useful. But when you look at that, you find her answering anything but the question. Steve McCabe asked her about the Home Secretary's pilot. "If it was a success, will you need less staff?"

Away she went for most of the 21st century on technology, flexible rostering and existing plans to cut 900 out of 8,000 staff. But the answer, surely, is 'yes'.

David Winnick invited her to distance herself from the black briefing of Clark as a "rogue officer" and to describe his 38-year career as "distinguished". She was clearly pleased with her mandarin answer: his career had been a series of "high-profile, high-risk jobs and he always led from the front". If you follow that, it means "serves him right, he asked for it".

What it looks like is this: Clark used a private reading of a 2007 protocol to relax checks whenever he needed to speed up queues and look good in his job. Lack of clarity allowed him to get away with it. He obfuscated. He misdirected attention. He wilfully misunderstood.

In short, he did to his bosses what his bosses do to us.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Port Eliot Festival  

How to keep it real and escape from the screen this summer

Simon Kelner
 

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on