Iraq and the Politics of Public Adminstration

More than enough has been written about Iraq already. But, from a public administration perspective, I remain fascinated by the failings of the British government that were exposed by the run-up to the war in Iraq. These were well summarised by Lord Butler (former Cabinet Secretary, head of the Civil Service and chair of the committee of inquiry into Weapons of Mass Destruction) in a debate in the House of Lords recently. What I remain puzzled by is the apparent failure to pick up on another dimension to the failings and weaknesses at the heart of government. Throughout the David Kelly affair, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokespersons, career civil servants, were engaging in essentially political activities when briefing journalists against another civil servant. Elsewhere, we have to be concerned at the blurred distinctions between special advisers, whose duty is to their political masters, and civil servants, whose duty is to a broader public interest. Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell clearly were acting in ways that would not be acceptable in a strict understanding of the role of a civil servant, though both (in part in the case of Campbell) civil servants.
You can read Lord Butler’s contribution to the debate at:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/70222-0009.htm#07022239000740
You can access the evidence of the PMOS, Jonathan Powell and Alistair Campbell to Lord Hutton’s inquiry at:
http://www.the-hutton-inquiry.org.uk/content/hearing_trans.htm
I promise not to go on about Iraq.

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