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UK Civil Service

In the feudal times, government represented neither the wishes nor interests of the people, nor were its objects the protection of common rights or the promotion of common justice. A hereditary king, the source of all office, the nobility, forever in office, and their subordinates, true to the feudal spirit, recognized neither equality nor liberty nor responsibility, but claimed a divine right to rule and insisted on an absolute duty of the people to obey. The modern rule of duty, that laws should be framed and executed in the common interests and on the basis of the equal rights of the people, and the theory that the power to appoint and remove public officers is one of trust and strict responsibility, to be exercised only for the general welfare, were not recognized, and they were repugnant alike to the theory of the government and the spirit of the age. Power was the only limit of official action, and fear the only reliance of the government.

A despotic spoils system was an essential part of the power of the crown and of the bulwarks of the nobility and the church. As it had been under the Plantagenets, so, substantially, it continued under the Tudors and the Stuarts, until the time of Cromwell. There was no public opinion sufficiently enlightened to grasp the idea that there is no more right to use the appointing power than there is to use the public money for selfish and corrupt purposes—if indeed there could be said to be any that comprehended the idea of official responsibility to the people in any sense.

Cromwell had done nothing toward the establishment of a better method than mere official favor for making selections for the public service, if indeed the times were not too violent and ignorant for a reform based on character and justice. Under Charles II., therefore, the old spoils system was restored with the crown; and in the form of pensions, titles, and bribes he increased all the former elements of corruption in ways which his profligacy and recklessness suggested. The appointing power was as much an article of merchandise as the crops on the royal estates. Parliamentary corruption increased with the power of Parliament, and nearly every officer was open to bribes, from the king, who set the example to the keeper of the dog-kennels, who followed it. Under James II. it was not better, but worse.

A system of mystification and perplexity was observable in the payment of salaries and pensions in departments of the public accounts. The incomes of placemen, for example, arose partly from salaries paid by government and partly from fees paid by individuals. Such a monstrous system could never have grown up, except under a most negligent and lavish administration, directly interested in the corruptions it tolerated.

William III. was the first English king who brought a reforming spirit to the throne, and the first who appreciated the importance of good administration; and he soon discovered that without reforms he could not carry forward his great enterprises, if indeed he could retain the throne. He did little for better methods, but much for a better spirit, and more efficiency and responsibility. He became his own Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and day after day he personally investigated abuses in the other departments. Laws were passed for the protection of the freedom of elections, judges were made secure in their offices during good behavior, placemen were excluded from seats in Parliament.

The partisan system of appointments and promotions aggravated the evils of Parliamentary patronage, made administration costly and feeble, spread corruption from the department to cities, boroughs, and elections, while it disgusted the better class of citizens, alarmed statesmen, and exasperated and debased all political contests.

At the same time that every thing within the domain of administration and politics was becoming more and more demoralized, until the lowest depths of corruption were reached under Walpole, Newcastle, and Pelham — while statesmanship tended to sink into the mere management and manipulation of parties and elections, and those at the head of public affairs became the leaders of a servile class seeking places, pensions, and titles—a higher and bolder public opinion was being developed outside political circles, which demanded more purity and patriotism in politics, and more zeal and spirituality in religion—an opinion which found noble utterance by Chatham and Burke in Parliament and by Whitefield and Wesley in the pulpit.

In the earlier years of the reign of George III the King had kept patronage in his own hands, and had used it with the single view of increasing his personal power. Edmund Burke's reform of the Civil List (1782) brought in a new and more permanent organization of the government offices, which made royal pressure on the “placemen” more difficult. In 1809 a Superannuation Act had the practical effect of giving civil servants the right to hold their office during good behavior.

From 1810 they were paid by salary instead of by fees, and from 1816 the salaries of many posts were provided by a Parliamentary grant. By this time the royal power was exercised by the cabinet ministers, and they, through the “Patronage Secretary to the Treasury” who acted as Parliamentary “whip,” avowedly used their patronage on the nomination of individual members of Parliament as a means of keeping together a majority in the House of Commons. Lord John Russell, in his (History of English Government and Constitution’ 1823 (page 402), speaks of Parliamentary patronage as being “of late years more completely organized.”

The legislation which followed the Reform Bill of 1832 increased the number and importance of civil service posts. while the growth of the railway system and of other forms of joint stock enterprise made it more difficult for the government to retain its few really able officials. The majority of the persons appointed on the nomination of ministers and members of Parliament were notoriously incompetent. Each party respected the appointments of its predecessor and no one lost his post on a change of government—a fact which, while it mitigated the evils of the spoils system, added to the permanent inefficiency of the service.

The introduction of household suffrage in towns by Disraeli's “Leap in the Dark“ Reform Bill (1867) and the defeat of the Conservative party at the election of 1868 altered the whole political position of the civil service question. The existing aristocratic political families felt that their hold on patronage was gone, and were afraid of the results which would follow from the use of patronage by members of Parliament under the pressure of the newly enfranchised voters.

The system of open competition for the Indian civil service introduced 15 years before had worked well. and Gladstone was able to publish (4 July 1870), almost without opposition, an Order in Council throwing open to competition most of the government ofiices. The Foreign Ofiice and the Home Office (which controls the police) were excepted, owing to a belief that secrecy was better secured by a system of nomination. A few years later (1873) the Home Office was thrown open.

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Page last modified: 05-06-2016 20:47:22 ZULU