The Home Office’s “top civil servant” Philip Rutnam quit on Saturday 29 February. His decision was centred around a scandal with home secretary Priti Patel. But people on social media are saying he doesn’t deserve any sympathy. Because his career has been marred by systematic failure. Not least of that, the Windrush scandal.
As BBC News tweeted:
"I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign"
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) February 29, 2020
Rutnam seemed to want to take Patel down with him. As The Canary reported:
Rutnam has alleged Patel belittled colleagues and led a ‘vicious and orchestrated’ briefing campaign against him. In the wake of his resignation, the Westminster storm surrounding Patel has intensified. And Patel is said to be ‘absolutely livid’ about allegations that she bullied staff and is distrusted by spymasters.
Rutnam’s reportedly planning on taking the government to court. And over on Twitter, people were leaping on his decision to quit:
Applause for Sir Philip Rutnam. He will take Patel down with him, ridding the country of at least one of its succubi.
— A C Grayling #FBPE🕷 #Reform #Rejoin 🐟 (@acgrayling) February 29, 2020
Sir Philip Rutnam to civil servant resigns after vicious campaign against him allegedly and intends to SUE the government, bloody good for him… have you ever seen a government in such a mess within weeks of being elected..
— Isobel (@Isobel_waby) February 29, 2020
But Rutnam probably deserves little sympathy, because his own career is one that’s been dogged by controversy.
In charge of the Windrush scandal
As Mic Wright pointed out:
Let’s maybe not conclude that the most senior civil servant at the Home Office during the Windrush Scandal is a hero. It’s just so happens that an even more horrific person is now in charge at the Home Office. It was already a nest of bastards.
— Mic Wright (@brokenbottleboy) February 29, 2020
Quite. Because as BBC News previously reported, Rutnam was at the heart of the Windrush scandal. An internal report showed civil servants had “not supported” the then home secretary Amber Rudd as they should have done. Rutnam commissioned a report into the scandal. It pinned the blame on two civil servants. But the report laid no responsibility at Rutnam’s door. This is despite him saying to a select committee he felt “personal responsibility” for the civil servants’ actions.
An omnishambles career
But it wasn’t just the Home Office where Rutnam failed. Because before this, he was permanent secretary at the Department for Transport (DfT). While he was there, there were numerous DfT omnishambles. Not least:
- The re-privatisation of the East Coast mainline; a contract which collapsed after Rutnam left the department.
- HS2, which on his watch was forecast to cost £56bn. That’s now gone up to £106bn.
- Virgin Trains taking the government to court over the West Coast rail franchise.
- Overseeing the Southern Rail calamity, including an extra £20m subsidy for the company.
There was also an irony in Rutnam being, at one point, the civil service disability champion. After nearly a year of him being in the post, the Institute for Government said that 28% of disabled civil servants reported discrimination. Also, in his last year at the DfT in 2016, 17 people in the department said they faced disability discrimination.
If this is how they treat each other…
But Rutnam’s role in disability perhaps raises a better point in this whole, sorry mess. Because if Patel’s treatment of him is an example of how ministers treat the civil service, then it’s little wonder that they treat the public even worse. For example, countless disabled people have died on the Department for Work and Pensions’ watch.
We probably shouldn’t feel much sympathy for Rutnam. But we should look to the story as an example of an ever growing authoritarianism from this Tory government.
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