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UK politics

Sir Humphrey’s revenge

“No, Minister, I really think you’d be better off doing it this way instead”

Civil servants are in open revolt, says Dan Hodges in The Mail on Sunday. One minister tells me that when she asks anyone in her department to do something, she is told: “No, Minister, I really think you’d be better off doing it this way instead.” These officials can sense “change is in the air”. They read the polls and the body language of their ministers; they know that soon they’ll no longer serve the “doomed” Tories but Keir Starmer. And as a result, the “Whitehall machine has begun flexing its collective muscle”, moving beyond “obstructionism to outright sabotage”.

With Levelling Up funding, for example, the PM was told he would face a judicial review if he got involved in selecting winning bids – so civil servants were given sole authority for dishing out the £2bn pot. The Treasury is “leaking like a sieve”: officials are briefing on anything that will damage the government and counting down the days until Labour’s Rachel Reeves comes sweeping in. Tom Scholar, who was sacked as the department’s permanent secretary by Liz Truss, is now said to be in the running for a job as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff. Clearly, three years after Dominic Cummings reportedly pledged a “hard rain” would fall on anyone who defied his efforts to reform the civil service, the mandarins are having their revenge. It’s also self-preservation. “They know we’re basically done for,” one minister tells me. “So their attitude is, ‘We might as well help finish them off.’”