Revenge of the Mandarins?

Last week, the latest Iraq inquiry had its first public evidence sessions (see:  I am not clear that we learnt anything that wasn’t widely believed before, but we are now hearing it from the mouths of the Madarinate.  But this puzzles me.  First, it is clear that the power of the civil service to question and obstruct (much caricatured in Yes Minister but also evident in numerous ministerial diaries, notably those of Tony Benn) is not what it once was.  But we knew this from previous inquiries.  The influence of Powell and Campbell in the preparation of the dossiers published in the run-up to war is testimony to this.  The politicising of intelligence is revealed fully in the Butler Inquiry.

But there is a second issue for me.  What were these same Mandarins doing in the run-up to war?  How did they raise their objections?  What did they do when they were ignored or overruled?  What are the duties of civil servants in such circumstances?  Should they have escalated the issues and concerns over evidence or legality?  Should they have resigned?  In an earlier blog, I suggested that the PM’s Official Spokesperson behaved in a manner that does not fit within any understanding of the role of the civil service (  It appears it is an endemic problem.

And today the trial starts in Germany of John Demjanjuk.  Does the “I was just following orders” defence still have purchase in that context as it appears to have in Whitehall?


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