Promising young politicians are “dehumanised” by life as a Government minister, Lord Jones of Birmingham has claimed.
The former chief of the Confederation of British Industry delivered a withering verdict on Britain’s political system after 16 months in Gordon Brown’s regime.
Lord Jones, better known as Digby Jones, became a Trade Minister as part of Mr Brown’s drive to create a “Government of All the Talents”, despite not being a member of the Labour Party. But he warned that up-and-coming politicians were used as “cannon fodder” and undermined by civil servants. He also said Britain could get by with half as many Whitehall officials – but warned they were almost impossible to sack.
Speaking to MPs, he described life as a junior politician as a “depersonalising, cannon-fodder process.”
He said: “Most people enter with very well-meaning, well-intentioned firm beliefs about how they want to change society for good, as they see it, and then the system gets them. The true runners of the country, the civil service, get them.
“If they become a junior minister, I feel that is one of the most dehumanising experiences a human being can have. The whole system is designed to take the drive out of a junior minister.”
Junior ministers were scared of rocking the boat because they had to consider the effect of their future career in politics, he said. “They become subject to the levers and instruments of advancement because they are building their career. Unlike any other career - if they work in one bank and their face doesn’t fit they can go and work with another bank – with politics, if they go into one, there is nowhere else to go. So they start to make compromises, and within a very short period they are fodder for a party political driver, or for the way the civil service is implementing policy.”
Lord Jones, who left the Government last October, not been affected in the same way because he never wanted a political career, and had always planned to stand down as a Minister. But he was frustrated by civil servants who failed to carry out his instructions – and told him bluntly that they could afford to ignore him because he would soon be gone.
It came as a shock following a career in the private sector. “Someone coming in with that expertise, they come up against an organisation in the civil service which is honest, full of decent people who work hard, but frankly the job could be done with half as many.”
Lord Jones was giving evidence to the Commons Public Administration Committee, chaired by Cannock Chase MP Tony Wright (Lab), which is holding an inquiry into how government operates.
Conservative MP David Burrowes (Enfield Southgate) said Lord Jones was still a member of the House of Lords. Mr Burrowes said: “It won’t have harmed your career in the slightest.”
Speaking to journalists later, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: “I think you’ll find the civil service is full of honest, decent people who work very hard.”