12 October 2014

Nightmare on Downing Street

Dystopian novels should hold up a mirror to the horrors that await us if we do nothing to divert disturbing trends. In Whitehall through the Looking Glass, I painted a picture of life under a shameless plutocratic government. More recently, when giving my views to the Civil Service College, I warned that we might not be far off from the pervasive oppression portrayed in the story.

“In this timid new world, privatisation and deregulation will keep handing more power to large corporations until there are no viable checks or balances against them. Civil servants, on short-term contracts, will be made keenly aware that they have to spend time in the private sector to impress their corporate masters (inside and outside government). Those who cannot point to a successful track record of serving business interests are unlikely to reach the upper echelons of Whitehall.

And once a corporate-led government has consolidated its position, it will remove any obstacle to the development and application of advanced technology to expand its powerbase and the profits of its allies. In the absence of any genuine public scrutiny, the power of surveillance, information manipulation, and promotion of addictive consumerism will be deployed without constraint. Few civil servants will dare to blow the whistle. Those who do can expect a long prison sentence. And with 24/7 monitoring, probably with the aid of bio-technology, there is little chance of escaping detection.

A government conducted for the benefit of the business elite will also want to make sure the majority of the population are unable to pool their resources to act collectively. The rich will accordingly be liberated from paying taxes, public services will be largely dismantled, and welfare safety nets will vanish altogether. At the same time, corporate leaders in the government and the media (including the privatised BBC) will work seamlessly together to present the most vulnerable people as deserving of scorn and ill-treatment – thus diverting public frustration towards those least able to defend themselves.” (excerpts from ‘What would Whitehall be like in fifty years’ time?’, in Despatches, the Civil Service College newsletter: [p.2].)

Now we hear that the Government has just appointed as the chief executive of the British Civil Service someone who has had no experience as a civil servant, and whose sole credentials are a career in the private sector where he had presided over health and safety problems in the oil industry and disputes in pushing for more fracking. On top of his key public sector role, he is allowed to keep his £100,000 a year post with a brewing company. That is not fiction.