The Corner

Winston Smith Speaks

An old colleague of mine in the British government has some interesting observations on Tony Blair’s style of government, inspired by the reshuffle on Friday:

When first I came to London back in 1984, a fresh-faced youth of 25, I was working for the Department of the Environment. Admittedly for the first two years I was seconded to English Heritage, but I was employed by the Department of the Environment. In 1996 we moved offices into the building I’m in now. The Tories lost the 1997 election, and I woke up to find that I was now working for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. Then came the BSE scare, followed rapidly by Foot and Mouth, which left the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food so discredited that the Environment side was hived off to create a “new” department to banish the shame that was MAFF. I found myself therefore working for the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I did not feel the necessity to change my desk, though I did order some new business cards.

 Then there was a public relations f*ck up about being a good day to bury news, which coincided with 9/11. To hide the Government’s embarrassment, Transport was recreated as a Department of State and we were left nameless for a day or so before becoming then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It sounded good, and we got to use the Royal Crest on our notepaper, just like the old days before corporate logos were de rigeur, though I did look wistfully at my half used pack of business cards.

This morning we were still the ODPM. But by mid morning, the pictures of the DPM and his ministers had disappeared from the foyer. By lunchtime the logo had been expunged from the stainless steel pedestal outside of the building, and by mid afternoon it had gone from all the windows that face ot to the public. On Monday, even the last faded traces will have been polished over.

ODPM is no more. By Monday it never will have been.

The rumour mill tells me that we are now the Department for (or of) Communities and Local Government though this has yet to be confirmed officially. We have no letter head, nor even any official identity and cannot therefore sent anything that may be construed as official out of the building.

When I joined the Service all those years ago, Departments of State were immutable, almost eternal things with their identities proudly displayed from engraved brass plates outside the main entrance. We now have rather fetching little logos printed on clear plastic and moulded to the building. They peel off easily if you know the trick. This is how the Bolshevik airbrushing was achieved so quickly and so painlessly. Government of the 21st century is a whim wrapped in polythene and as disposable as a McDonald’s carton.

And just to clarify, we have always been at war with Eurasia.

 This all started when they merged the Admiralty with the Air Ministry and War Office, you know…  

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