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

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home