Cabinet Office – A paradigm of the current British GovernmentI recently went to an election planning meeting at the Cabinet Office, No. 70 Whitehall, which, as you see from the picture, has a grand classical frontage onto what is after all one of the grandest streets anywhere in the world. Once you get to the doorway you are quickly struck by what a sham the façade is. You are greeted by security people who, with their high vis jackets and scruffy dark uniforms, look no smarter than municipal car park attendants.
Once into the building you discover that the original interior has been largely gutted and replaced, clearly at vast expense, with modern office accommodation, but laid out like a maze with even bridges going over the roof of old buildings, with courtyards enclosed and roofed over with bomb proof glass. So just like our whole government system we have a glorious façade and inside we have a highly expensive muddle of meeting rooms, committees, offices, corridor and lifts, none of which are coherently planned or even efficient. Both with the Cabinet Office building and with Government generally we have neither the grandeur of the original interior of the building, nor the efficiency of a wholly new structure.
During the course of our meeting to discuss election planning for the coming General Election, one party’s delegate pointed out that many returning officers were breaking the law in the way they compile the electoral roll. which is part of the muddle of an electoral system that we have got, where there is no-one overall in charge and the returning officers are often able to get away with their own illegal practices, which particularly matters when the returning officers are partisan like in many of the Labour one party state areas of the country.
In response to this I suggested that the Cabinet Office might wish to “fire a shot across their bows”. The remark was met with hushed shock that government would show any such firmness of action. The senior civil servant present said “No they would only be politely reminded of their legal duty”!
The façade of the building which is a remnant of the days of Empire is wholly at variance with the thinking of those that work in the building!
The senior civil servant concerned also certainly did not match the public’s outdated view of what a senior civil servant looks like. Not at all Sir Humphrey, but indeed a somewhat unkempt beard and hair, scruffy un-ironed shirt with shirt neck button undone, sleeves casually half rolled up and tie askew. But there we all were in a room overlooking our greatest imperial era parade ground at Horse Guards!
What do you think?