Behind the Rutnam case

Submitted by AWL on 4 March, 2020 - 11:48 Author: Luke Hardy
Philip Rutnam

On a basic trade union level we should be against the bullying of even a very well paid civil servant like Philip Rutnam, head of the Home Office, who resigned on 29 February, complained that many of his staff had been bullied, and said he would sue the government for "constructive dismissal".

There clearly is a turf-war element here, as in the resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid over prime minister Boris Johnson's insistence on replacing Javid's staff by staff under Johnson's control. Or the case of Javid's adviser Sonia Khan, who was marched off the job last September by armed police called in by Johnson's adviser Dominic Cummings, and whose union is now suing over unfair dismissal.

Beyond that, we see an effort by the new government to transform the state to suit its authoritarian nationalist politics and centralise power in the hands of Boris Johnsons chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

Cummings sees the traditional levers of state power as dominated by wishy-washy "Oxbridge humanities graduates" (though he himself is one of those). He sees his role to clear out the liberal infection and centralise power so that the chosen leader can operate with the mandate of the silent majority.

Cummings wants like-minded "radicals" committed to the transformation of the British state, though even he had to let the openly racist Andrew Sabisky resign (18 February) after journalists dug out Sabisky's blog posts.

However right wing this government is, we cannot cheer on senior civil service officials who implemented the hostile environment, austerity, the war on the disabled and the poor. Those people are not allies.

We do not see the senior civil service as a neutral arbiter. It is a tool of class rule. Tony Benn wrote about that in relation to civil-service pressures on the Labour governments of the 1960s and 1970s.

However, the senior civil service is also an institution that can be subjected to laws, parliamentary oversight, rules and regulations more than an absolutist cabal led by Cummings can.

If Johnson and Cummings smashes the senior civil servants' union, the FDA, and reconstituting the civil service in its own image, then the way is clearly open to wider attacks on left-leaning officials in education, academia or the broader public sector.

You do not have to whitewash the politics of the privately educated wealthy mandarins who dominate Whitehall to oppose the governments assault on the civil service. Or perpetuate comforting fictions about their role.

We want a radically democratic workers' state that cannot be won by simply laying our hands on the bourgeois state and its civil service. We seek government through elected and recallable delegates, with full transparency, and with all official jobs done at workers' wages.

Millions of people are unconvinced of the need for a socialist reconstitution of society on a international scale but are deeply concerned about the authoritarian rightward turn across the globe. They are looking for movements and social forces that can effectively fight and resist it.

If the workers' movement takes the lead, many of them may yet be won to our cause and the banner of international socialism.

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