Civil Serf – what went wrong

There’s been a lot of discussion across the blogosphere, and in the press, about the disappearance of the Civil Serf blog yesterday. The Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph both published articles about Civil Serf and shortly afterwards the blog disappeared.I’ve been quite taken aback by the response. You’d think some terrible contravention of human rights had occurred the way people have been talking about it.The facts are simple, Civil Serf crossed the line. The Civil Service Code is clear about integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality being critical to acting as a civil servant. Even if all she’s guilty of is being indiscreet, then she’s certainly not acted in the spirit of the code.

If you work for an organisation, any organisation, and choose to criticise it anonymously (but leave enough clues to identified) you are asking for trouble (this isn’t the first time I said that). End of.

The fact that the person in question is a civil servant does not make it in the public interest to ‘lift the lid on Whitehall’, because a civil servant is more aware than most of their terms and conditions of employment and why they’re important. So they have less excuses if they do cross the line.

For the record, I enjoyed reading the blog. I recognised the tone but 1. although its not my experience, I know some colleagues sympathised more and 2. Working in any large bureauocracy (public or private) is frustrating. Its easy to single out the public sector but its a pretty obvious target.

Obviously I think civil servants are absolutely in their rights to blog their thoughts, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing what I do here. But that right needs to be placed in context whoever you work for.

  1. Quite, Jeremy, and I hope that your own blogging here is not compromised.

    • Kay Tie
    • March 11th, 2008

    “Working in any large bureauocracy (public or private) is frustrating. Its easy to single out the public sector but its a pretty obvious target.”

    Big difference: we pay for the public bureaucracy. How else are we supposed to find out what’s being done with our money and in our name?

  2. @KT Civil servants are taxpayers too – we care how the money is being spent as well. O our work is pretty tightly scrutinised by all manner of bodies. Big difference between scrutiny and gossip.

    • Oliver
    • March 12th, 2008

    Jeremy, you do realise that your rationale is perfectly applicable to silence whistleblowers (and is routinely used to that end)? Yes, there’s a difference between scrutiny and gossip, but if you forbid one with arguments that apply to the other, too, then you’re not precisely doing accountability a favour. As for your work being tightly scrutinised by all manner of bodies -with all due respect, Jeremy, but if that were enough at all times, there would be no political scandals, period. The fact that there are makes quite clear that alternative mechanisms to “get the word out” are necessary, just as they are in private business.

  3. @Oliver. I’m not suggesting forbidding gossip. Only that if you do, you shouldn’t expect protection. In any case, political scandals are more than office tittle tattle about how bored someone might be in their job. There are plenty of channels available (and protection) to anyone genuinely whistleblowing.

    • DC
    • March 13th, 2008

    @Jeremy, nice lower-backside licking for a promotion. Surely TW reading this will call his cronies to upgrade the grade.

  4. @DC Easy to be rude when you hide behind anonymity. Have you not read what I wrote? As for the promotion, I wish…

    • futurewww
    • March 16th, 2008

    I suspect this is very similar to what has always happened, ie that drunken conversations in whitehall pubs are ‘overheard’ by journalists, except, now, this takes place on line. When you look at it, there are actually very few examples of eg blogging leading to any problems with employees, when you consider the ‘ooo’s of people who are doing it. Storm in an e-cup!

  5. futureww. Correct about it being overblown.

    • Oliver
    • March 19th, 2008

    Maybe there are enough protections for whistleblowers. Problem is, even if that were so, your line of argumentation is fit to provide a rationale for abolishing it. “Even if all she’s guilty of is being indiscreet, then she’s certainly not acted in the spirit of the code.” can be easily applied to classical whistleblowing disclosures. After all, there’s hardly anything more indiscreet than reporting the skeletons in your boss’ closet you know about.

  6. But being indiscreet isn’t necessarily about whistleblowing, its often about inane gossiping and breaking confidences. My point was that if you are truly whistleblowing then you have less to fear than if you are simply gossiping and ignoring your obligations to your employer and your colleagues.

    • Rob Bain
    • March 20th, 2008

    “If you are truly whistle blowing then you have less to fear”,
    Didn’t I read about the Eurostat EU whistleblower getting sacked /suspended after exposing financial irregularities?

    Despite the Welsh Windbag saying I will root out corruption., there will be zero tolerance Looks like she had nothing to fear then?

    We all love the gravy train when we’re on it.

  1. March 10th, 2008
  2. March 11th, 2008
    Trackback from : Public Strategy
  3. April 9th, 2008

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