Simon Case CVO with his boss Boris Johnson MYS
The UK is damned to endless incompetence according to Dominic Cummings. Here journalist and broadcaster John Drummond takes a side swipe at one of Cummings’ targets, top UK civil servant, Simon Case, CVO.
Some information on the dapper Case: Former royal aide Simon Case, in his tailored tweed suits and Barbour jackets, was appointed the youngest ever head of the civil service last year. The 42-year-old ‘yes man’ was drafted in as a top aide at Number 10 to help with the government’s coronavirus response, but few would have expected his meteoric rise to the top job as cabinet secretary. The ‘respectable face of No 10’ – as he has been described – was wheeled out to address claims made in a 1,000 word blog post by Dominic Cummings, the former Vote Leave mastermind villain, who resigned as the government’s strategic advisor in November last year. Described by one former colleague as ‘very calm, very clever and a very clear thinker’ he was surely the right man to field enquiries about the ongoing ‘chatty rat’ leak investigation to questions concerning his former boss David Cameron’s relationship with billionaire Australian businessman Lex Greensill. Case stood fast remaining defensive – dodging a string of questions from MPs – meaning many answers still hang in the balance.
In a sentence: Case is the most important behind the scenes influence on British politics you have never heard of.
A Case Study by John Drummond
According to the Peter Principle a person who is competent at their job will earn a promotion to a position that requires different skills. If the promoted person lacks the skills required for the new role, they will be incompetent at the new level, and will not be promoted again. If the person is competent in the new role, they will be promoted again and will continue to be promoted until reaching a level at which they are incompetent. Being incompetent, the individual will not qualify for promotion again, and so will remain stuck at this “Final Placement” or “Peter’s Plateau.”
As if to demonstrate this poverty of Westminster thinking, the UK’s top civil servant, Simon Case, popped into a House of Lords meeting recently to regale the assembled peers with the following dewdrops of distilled wisdom.
Remember that all Scottish civil servants are ultimately report to him. Case, demonstrating again his keen sense of Scottish affairs, said this arrangement should continue ‘as there was no need for a separate Scottish civil service.’
In short, the man to whom top civil servants in Scotland look to for guidance and, more importantly, promotion is saying the Union comes first. Do they share with their boss details of Scottish Government plans and thinking? After all Case also declares; “there is a new vigour to defend the Union”. So presumably he would wish to know of any matters that may run counter to this drive.
Clearly, Simon Case is a man to watch; not least because he falls within the category of those described by Cummings as ‘unfit’. Cummings also said that good civil servants have fallen by the wayside in Whitehall, while other less competent are promoted. So, who is he?
In March 2017, Simon Case was announced as the Director General for the UK–EU Partnership. He took up the post in May 2017. In this role he was “leading the UK Government’s work on exiting and seeking a new partnership with the European Union”. In January 2018, he was appointed Director General Northern Ireland and Ireland: in this role, he acted as the lead civil servant for finding a solution to the Irish Border issue post-Brexit.
Evidently, he is building on the enormous success of these efforts in Northern Ireland in his approach to Scotland. Case also declares there is ‘no need for a separate Scottish civil service.’ Some reading the above account might beg to differ.
However, we do not always need to look to Whitehall to see the Peter Principle at work. Closer to home we have the example of the Liberal Democrats. Now, Willie Rennie may well be a nice cove. But a successful leader – not so much. Indeed, his leadership qualities, or their lack, are the despair of those within his own camp. A leading LibDem describes the recent Scottish election campaign as ‘a disaster’. The Lib Dems lost 50 deposits, compared to 48 in 2016 and 25 in 2011. They now have only 4 MSPs and are behind the Scottish Greens in the Holyrood pecking order. And those precious few owe more to tactical voting than LibDem appeal, some suggest.
The great constitutional hope of those not wedded to Independence or Union is federalism or Home Rule. Whatever form this takes it’s bound to involve control from Westminster, with a structure and people described as ‘unfit’. Food for thought.
Scott Davis is a guest on the TNT show, 7pm Wednesdays on IndyLive
John Drummond writes the ‘Constitution Column’ in the Sunday National, a role he shares with Dr Elliot Bulmer. He is also the host of The Nation Talks show, broadcast every Wednesday at 7pm on the IndyLive channel.