Letters: Impartial advice is the last thing ministers want

These letters appear in the February 19 edition of The Independent

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Arguably the success of the UK, and historically its ability to rule an empire, was to a large extent due to its impartial and incorruptible Civil Service.

Many developing countries are hindered in their development by their lack of an incorruptible civil service. While I fully agree that without reform such an organisation can ossify, I am a bit disturbed by Sir Gerry Grimstone’s report (“Impartiality mantra ‘blocks talent’ at top of Civil Service”, 17 February).

The problem with the Civil Service has been its reluctance to employ specialists because their specialist knowledge would in some way bias their view. However, specialists are often trained in disciplines where a rational approach is essential and they are no less capable of impartiality than any other person.

What worries me is the comment: “A healthy and vibrant civil service needs more than impartial and meritocratic recruitment.” Sorry, this is precisely what it needs.

We need to recruit the best specialist brains, capable of rational thought in specialist areas, and capable of giving advice based on the evidence and not on political dogma. 

The minister can choose to accept the advice or not but he/she needs to hear it. My worry is that what ministers mean by impartial is someone who will not question their political decision no matter how ill-founded. In the words of Margaret Thatcher, they want a Civil Service which is made up of people who are one of us.

Chris Elshaw
Headley Down, Hampshire


The Civil Service Commission argues that it must prevent the politicisation of the Civil Service. But the horse has already bolted.

One only has to look at attributed comments by government spokespersons in news stories to see that they are the words of political activists and not independent civil servants. Moreover, they are carefully worded “statements”, not comments spoken by a press officer.

They will probably have been vetted by several communications managers to ensure they are all “on message”, and they are issued as statements in full to try to avoid further awkward questions. They invariably start with a general statement with which everyone would agree, followed by the inevitable “That’s why we...” and the justification of the department’s action or view. The statements rarely respond to the actual gist of the story.

In pre-Coalition days, this would quite rightly have been referred to as “spin”. It is a little dispiriting to see a paper such as The Independent going along with this manipulation, apparently without complaint. At least, the paper should be honest and say, for example: “In an emailed statement, the Department claimed...”.

Norman Evans
East Horsley, Surrey


Unfairly praised for being a Jew

I have suffered from philo-Semitism all my life, so I would like to counter the fear of anti-Semitism in the UK being stirred by Benjamin Netanyahu and others (editorial, 17 February).

Through no fault of my own (other than the double “n” in my name) I have been credited with the wisdom of Solomon, the business acumen of a Rothschild and the humour of Woody Allen. I deserve no more credit for all these attributes than those who suffer from the opposite but, in the great balance of accounts, my experience of British life from 1957 has been unadulteratedly good.

I cannot think of a less anti-Semitic place on Earth. In fact, an Englishman, who went to Eton, once mentioned to me that he thought it really frustrated some of his pure-bred English colleagues that we were the only club they couldn’t join.

So let’s not up the fear factor in this green and pleasant land.

Anthony Lipmann
East Molesey, Surrey


Benjamin Netanyahu has called for “massive immigration” of European Jews to Israel in the wake of the Copenhagen shooting.

As a grandchild of Jewish Holocaust victims I could at any time “make aliyah”, apply for an Israeli passport and settle in Israel. The bottom line that stops me is that, at the very best, my neighbours might support the brutal occupation of Palestine or that, at the worst, I might be asked to live in an illegal settlement built on land stolen from Palestinians, or in a home from which a Palestinian family had been evicted for my sake.

Elizabeth Morley
Trisant, Aberystwyth


Benjamin Netanyahu suggests that European Jews should migrate to a safer Israel. What, with “thousands” of rockets raining down on it whenever there is the occasional war? I am baffled.

S Matthias
London SE1


Now start spending aid where it’s needed

The Government’s move to enshrine into law the commitment to spend  0.7 per cent of gross national income on overseas aid is news worth celebrating. This is key to securing vital resources that could change the lives of many people in poverty for the better. Yet government must change how it spends aid, not just how much, to ensure it’s a force for good.

Much UK aid is being used to leverage policy reform in recipient countries that is putting economic development in the hands of corporations, including multinationals. Millions in UK aid is helping to privatise services, remove important trade regulations and put vital resources in the hands of big business. Radical change is needed. The Government must now shift its aid policy to put poor communities, not corporations, first. 

Chris Walker
Global Justice Now
London SW9


Silly party games at the Commons

The second episode of BBC2’s documentary  Inside the Commons made me very angry indeed.

One assumes that the authorities had granted permission and access to film in Parliament because they earnestly believed that it would show what a jolly hard-working and diligent bunch they are. They could not have been more wrong. This episode dealt with filibustering and private members’ Bills.

Filibustering is the technique whereby members opposed to a Bill waffle on interminably, so that the Bill is defeated by lack of time. In the example shown, it was a smug Tory MP doing the filibustering; and didn’t he look pleased with himself? It could have been filmed at a sixth-form debating society.

The package on private members’ Bills showed how MPs had to camp out, 24 hours a day, opposite the office of a fierce-looking lady who had the power to give them the chance of progressing some cause in which they strongly believed, on a first come, first served basis.

Are these silly party-games truly what we should expect our MPs to be indulging in, in the  21st century?

This programme showed us the truth about our democracy, which is that MPs don’t seem to view ruling our country as a particularly serious business.

Stuart Fretwell
Portland, Dorset


Rapid response to ‘nuts in cumin’ alert

The article “New food scandal ...” (14 February) does not mention the robust industry response to the presence of undeclared almond protein in two cumin-containing products.

As quoted in the article, the response to this emerging issue has been rapid. In fact, following a number of product recalls in the US and Canada between December and January, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) contacted the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and other food sector bodies across the world to ensure timely information-sharing on the potential presence of peanut or almond proteins in cumin, and on the available testing methods.

The FSA has stated that currently there is no evidence to link the two UK alerts to the recalls of cumin and cumin-containing products in the US.

FDF and the Seasoning and Spice Association (SSA) support the production of safe and wholesome foods and take matters relating to food safety very seriously. To ensure the quality and integrity of their products, SSA members have in place a series of fully implemented process controls. Consumers can be assured that partners in the UK food chain are collaborating fully to ensure the active management of this issue.

Barbara Gallani
Director of Regulation, Science and Health, Food and Drink Federation
London WC2


Chiswick’s fierce local heroine

I was so saddened to read your obituary of Anne Naysmith (17 February), having often seen this proud lady in and around Chiswick.

Encountering her in the local post office I foolishly proffered some money, that she might buy herself some food. She looked up, spat at my hand, muttered the word “cock” and turned away. I hurried away, tail between my legs, slightly bemused.

A fiercely independent lady indeed, she will be much missed around Chiswick.

Chris Hazell
London W4