The inevitable tragedy of Civil Serf

It’s most amusing to see so many journalists writing up the Civil Serf story for the ‘proper’ media… particularly since most seem to be lifting the key quotes from each other’s write-ups, rather than the blog itself (which was pulled, cached versions and all, by Sunday morning). Secondary sourcing at its worst.
Steadily though, the Legend Of Civil Serf is building, in the secondary analysis and the ill-informed blog comments which build on it. That the blog was revealing state secrets, including the contents of Alastair Darling’s forthcoming budget. That it named individual Ministers and told endless tales of their incompetence. That she was wasting time blogging, when she should have been working. That it was a big deal. In truth, it was none of these. It was a modest affair, a handful of posts written over a three-month period by an intelligent young woman, describing what she saw in her workplace.
There’s been an air of inevitability about each step, as the story plays itself out. Of course her anonymity was going to fail eventually. What else could she do when the truth came out, but delete the blog? What else could people make of it all? My worry is for the next inevitable, knee-jerk step: a Cabinet Office communique choosing to interpret the Civil Service Code in such a way that bans all such blogging.
The Civil Service has a problem. It needs to recruit people with outside experience; and it does a pretty good job of that. The problem is keeping them, once they’re inside. I left under a cloud of frustration a couple of years back. Too few people interested in making things happen, too many people eager for a quiet life – and, I concluded, a quiet retirement. Or perhaps that’s harsh. Maybe just too set in their ways.
More than anything, it needs people who really care about what they’re there to do. And when you care about something, you want to talk about it. You want to evangelise. You want to involve your friends. I’m really worried that this sends a message – join us by all means, but whatever you do, don’t start to care.

7 thoughts on “The inevitable tragedy of Civil Serf”

  1. Was it really inevitable that she’d be caught? There are quite a few bloggers in other professions who happily maintain anonymity until the book launch. I guess there’s a smaller pool of suspects in central government, but it should still be possible as long as they think about what they post.

  2. As you say the blog was a vent blog, and once you cut and paste the “best” bits from the few months worth of posts you have enough for a quite short story in the Sunday Papers.
    The thing was we all knew that she was likely to run into problems, in part because there’s a myth about the civil service and how it presents itself to the general public. Anyone who has worked in or alongside government will have seen many things that they could recognise in Civil Serf, even if they don’t share the same frustrations. But once she’d attracted the attention of the press the end was inevitable.
    One other thing. She’s not the first civil servant to run into trouble for blogging. I remember there was another short-lived blog a couple of years ago which covered similar territory and while it didn’t get the Daily Mail treatment one day it was there the next…

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  4. I agree 100% with your last paragraph. I was also a blogger and a Fast Stream civil servant (although the two didn’t mix – deliberately) up until October 2007 before quitting for the very same reasons as you cite.
    In my experience it’s very much frowned upon to really show you care about the topic at hand, although you should spend enormous numbers of hours working on whatever it is if you are to keep your bosses happy… Strange way of motivating people.

  5. Having gone through the same grinder as you I completely agree with the last two paragraphs. I don’t think your analysis is harsh – a lot of the ‘lifers’ are there for an easy life, a comfortable seat at the trough and then a comfortable retirement.
    Based purely on my experience alone many of them wouldn’t survive in the outside word, something bemoaned by the people they bring in from the experienced outside on a frequent basis I remember.
    The desire to slavishly follow (wasteful) protocol and shy from innovation and evolution was at times shocking. Like Jon says above, don’t you dare show you care!
    Rant over!

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