The Politician and the Bureaucrat
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 Oct 1977, p. 41-54
Redcliffe-Maud, The Right Honourable Lord, Speaker
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The conventional division between the politicians and the bureaucrat. The division in the United States and the Communist countries is very different. Similarities between Canada and Great Britain. A belief by the speaker in a continuation of this division, and a discussion on how and when it can work well. Examples from the U.K. The potential of the bureaucrat. The need for politicians to consult more with the bureaucrats.
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13 Oct 1977
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OCTOBER 13, 1977
The Politician and the Bureaucrat
AN ADDRESS BY The Rt. Hon. Lord Redcliffe-Maud, G.C.B., C.B.E.
CHAIRMAN The President, Peter Hermant


Ladies and gentlemen: Robert Whittinton, who died in 1530 wrote, "More is a man of angel's wit and singular learning, I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and past-times and sometimes of a sad gravity; a man for all seasons."

A man for all seasons is an apt description of our guest of honour today, Lord John Redcliffe-Maud. Witness the service, and particularly the variety of service, that Lord Redcliffe-Maud has given to his country.

His roots are clearly academic. He is the son of a bishop, and was a scholar at Eton, Oxford and Harvard. He published his first book on English local government at age twenty-six-a book which he himself has described as "sewage without tears". In that same year, he became Dean of University College, Oxford--the college of which he was later to be Master.

But for a creative mind, pure academics were not enough and during his time at Oxford University he was also an Oxford City Councillor.

In the war years that followed, Lord Redcliffe-Maud served as deputy secretary and later second secretary at the Ministry of Food, as permanent secretary at the Ministry of Reconstruction, and at the office of the Lord President of the Council. But even in these trying times he kept his academic hand in as Master of Birkbeck College which was the only college not evacuated in London during the war.

After this period, he moved rapidly through a series of government ministries, including Education, Economic Planning, and Fuel and Power. He also took part in the BBC program "Brains Trust".

Then in 1959 he was appointed High Commissioner and later Ambassador to South Africa, an appointment that apparently even surprised him, and he served in that capacity until 1963. At the same time, he was High Commissioner for Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland as well. His summation of his South African tour of duty was, "I cannot say that I liked it, but it was interesting."

Returning to England, he became Master of University College, Oxford. In 1966, he was named to head the commission investigating local government in England and in connection with that appointment served on various other bodies such as the local government management committee and the Prime Minister's committee on local government rules of conduct.

As a supplement to his government duties, he also served at the United Nations in the areas of food, agriculture, relief, rehabilitation, education and culture.

Lord Redcliffe-Maud has never neglected the cultural side of life and he has been the chairman of the council of the Royal College of Music and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Art.

In order to fill up the spare moments in his days, he is a trustee of the Castle Educational Trust and president of the Institute of Public Administration. And speaking of administration, he once told the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, "that good administration is good conduct for which somebody else gets the credit."

Lord Redcliffe-Maud was created a life peer in 1967 and now plays an active part as an independent member of the House of Lords. He appears regularly on television, he has authored a number of books and has an alarming number of honorary degrees and fellowships, and he is currently High Bailiff of Westminster and Searcher of the Sanctuary.

Surely no one would be in a better position to discuss with us the many aspects of the politician (whom Joey Adams, the comedian, has described as "one who goes to great lengths to say nothing--then complains when no one quotes him") and the bureaucracy (which author Hugh Keenleyside has described as "top heavy with brass and too often that brass is paid as if it were gold").

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to introduce to you truly a man for all seasons, Lord John Redcliffe-Maud, who will address us under the title "The Politician and the Bureaucrat".

THE RT. HON. LORD REDCLIFFE-MAUD: Mr. Chairman, My Lord Bishop, ladies and gentlemen: That criminal record which you have just heard so sympathetically described by the Chairman explains why I have chosen as the title for my talk to you "The Politician and the Bureaucrat". I needn't say that this traditional division of the labour of government, which is I think both Canadian and British, between those who are politicians and whom we can kick out, and the bureaucrats who help the politicians, but whom, broadly speaking, we can't kick out, this traditional division of labour is something which most of you probably regard as a fairly bad use of two fairly bad types of person. I don't believe that either politicians or bureaucrats are universally popular with members of the Empire Club.

It is quite true that this conventional division is quite different from what they have in the United States and quite different from what they have in the Communist countries. It was challenged very strongly by a professor of political science, Professor Harold Laski, in the period before the last war, throughout the war, and when Mr. Attlee became Prime Minister in Britain's Labour government of 1945. Laski said that it was ridiculous to keep as Heads of Departments (what you very sensibly call Deputy Ministers) men who had served under a series of Conservative governments. "When we, the Labour party, become the majority party in Parliament and want to make real progress, we've got to get rid of these people, lock, stock and barrel, and bring in people who believe in Socialism and will want to do the sort of things we want to do." That is a challenge to the traditional division of labour which is being renewed in some quarters in Britain today.

Attlee, in 1945, cocked a big snook at Professor Laski and said "I'm going to do nothing of the kind." Instead, he stuck to this tradition. He assumed that deputy ministers, however many Conservative governments they had served, would in fact be as loyal supporters of Labour ministers in his Labour administration as they had been of Tory ministers in time past. I will give you one example of that. One of the most Tory-minded of all my friends in the civil service during the war was a man called Sir Donald Ferguson, who had been head of the Ministry of Agriculture. (We in the Ministry of Food thought he spent his time looking after beef cattle because the farmers liked beef cattle rather than milk. We regarded him as a typical enemy between our department and his.) He was, in temperament and mind, a very conservative gentlemen. He was made, in 1945, Deputy Minister (or Permanent Secretary) of the new Ministry of Fuel and Power. He was the architect, under the Labour minister, of the nationalizing of the coal industry, the gas industry and the electricity industry. Everybody agreed that if you had to nationalize those things it couldn't have been better done!

That's just one example of how right Attlee was, in my opinion, to cock a snook at Professor Laski, and why I hope corresponding snooks will be cocked at those who, in a recent Select Committee of our House of Commons on the Civil Service, suggested that you could not trust these mandarins (as they were called) in Whitehall, and if a radical government really wanted to get proper change you would have to sack them and bring in partisan political supporters of your own. I may say that the House of Commons committee did not accept that view, although it had a majority of Labour members on it, and I have no fear in my own heart that we shall capitulate to this ridiculous idea.

What I do think is quite possible is that people in this room may regard the relationship between Minister and the Deputy Minister as comparable in some ways to the biological fact rather splendidly pointed out in a poem by Ogden Nash:

The fish, when he's exposed to air,
Can show no trace of savoir-faire,
But in the sea regains his balance
And shows off all his manly talents.
The chastest of the vertebrates,
He never even sees his mates,
But when they've finished, he appears
And O.K.'s all their bright ideas.

Now that in fact is how the fish kingdom is sustained. There may be people here who think that in Canada, or indeed in Britain, there are occasions when a male fish, the Minister, merely okays the ideas of the Deputy Ministers. All I can say is that it does very occasionally happen in England, but it is not in any way characteristic of the relationship. And it is because it's not that I want to say a few words about it to you this afternoon.

I had the remarkable luck to serve as a Deputy Minister, or something like it, for some six years in the coalition government of Winston Churchill, when all the parties were agreed and there was national consensus, first in the Ministry of Food and then in the office of the Minister of Reconstruction; then for six years in the Attlee administration under Labour ministers (who changed, alas, because my first Labour minister died--Ellen Wilkinson--and she was succeeded by George Tomlinson); and then for thirteen years of Conservative ministers. I had a sample of experiences as a bureaucrat for a coalition government, for a Labour government and for various Conservative governments--a hack in various departments at home and overseas. That is why I feel from my experience passionately in favour of a continuance of this division of labour between politician and bureaucrat, and why I believe that on certain conditions it can work extraordinarily well.

As it is roughly speaking the system that you have in Canada, there may or may not be relevance to you in what I say. But don't misunderstand me: I am simply telling you what my United Kingdom experience leads me to believe.

In the Ministry of Food, we were faced with the gigantic job of turning into a government department the whole business of wholesaling and retailing food for the beleaguered citizens of the United Kingdom; we had to do it with the use of shipping that would leave as much as possible for the importation of ammunition and supplies for other purposes than food, and we had to do it in such a way that the people's morale was sustained. There is no doubt, looking back, that it was a dazzling success which Lord Woolton, the politician at the head of the department and Sir Henry French, his Deputy Minister, achieved over that period. Here you have a wartime situation which you can't expect to have repeated in peacetime: when there really is an end of party political warfare, because everybody's backs are to the wall. Furthermore, the bureaucrats who formed the Ministry of Food under Lord Woolton were an exceptionally mixed bag. Henry French was a conventional long-term civil servant, but they had roped in all sorts of odds and sods, like myself, and (much more important) great businessmen in oils and fats and meat and sugar and all the various commodities that we were concerned in getting from somewhere--remembering that the fall of France cut us off from most of the conventional local supplies.

I quote the Ministry of Food to you because it shows that in certain circumstances our traditional system can be a success. In that particular relationship, what Lord Woolton "did was to back up Sir Henry French and give the chief bureaucrat his authority. He himself, Lord Woolton, helped the bureaucrat to knock the heads together of this mixed bag of civil servants, temporary and permanent. He, Lord Woolton, commended himself and the Ministry to the people of the country by his broadcasts, his use of press conferences and by using his experience as a great department-store keeper, because that's where he had made his reputation before the war. He was not a professional politician.

You must assume, he believed, that, roughly speaking, the customer is always right. Therefore, when we made a boob, for example with the egg marketing scheme and everybody knew that we'd made a boob of it, instead of waiting for people to complain, Lord Woolton went on the radio and apologized on behalf of himself and his colleagues for the mistake that had been made and promised to try to do better. He confined himself to a great and essential public relations job and to getting out of his colleagues in the Cabinet those precious fifteen million tons of import capacity per year which was the absolute minimum that we believed were needed for the importation of food to Britain. He left the actual job of doing it to these experts in the various commodity divisions, and he left it to Sir Henry French to co-ordinate and organize those unconventional efforts made by the businessmen in such a way that the thing worked.

That was a division of labour where you may say that success was out of the ordinary because it was wartime and government was engaged in an unusual commercial occupation. But the last eighteen months of the war saw Lord Woolton moved, to become Minister of Reconstruction with a seat in the War Cabinet. Churchill was very anxious that attention should not be diverted from the war effort, and he was therefore very unsympathetic to various people in the country who said we ought to be making plans for the Britain and the world that was going to emerge after the war had been won. He thought that first things should come first. But he did agree with his political colleagues that something had better be done about it. So he took Lord Woolton, who had established himself as the affectionately regarded "Uncle Fred" of food, and made him Minister of Reconstruction on condition that "you don't build up a great big ministry of bureaucrats. You can have a few bright lads, but don't let it be more than half a dozen."

In fact there were only six of us--I was one of the people Woolton took with him. There we did our best to help the politicians. It wasn't very much, because as the war came towards its end these members of the coalition government were naturally concerned that each party should have the best chance of winning the post-war general election. So they weren't going to agree, and they weren't going to allow any bureaucrats to help them to try and agree on most things which were controversial. But they did know that ten million houses had been destroyed and would have to be rebuilt; they were agreed that an emergency operation was needed for that purpose. They knew that a welfare state would be needed and demanded by the people; all parties therefore supported the work of a temporary bureaucrat called Sir William Beveridge (Master of the Oxford College of which I have just stopped being Master) and the Beveridge Report was worked out so that it could be put into practice whoever won the election.

But there was one other area where all party politicians needed the Office of the Minister of Reconstruction and that was to produce some White Paper, some blueprint of how mass unemployment which had kept three million people unemployed before the war could be made something that would never recur. We therefore had the job of putting together with the help of all the best economists and administrators outside our little office a White Paper on "a high and stable level of employment". We took great pains to get Lord Woolton to accept it (which he did very readily) but then also to see that others accepted it, and in particular Mr. Churchill. So we went to work on the bureaucrats who advised Lord Beaverbrook (one of Lord Woolton's Cabinet colleagues), and the bureaucrats who advised Lord Cherwell (who was another of Mr. Churchill's very influential colleagues). These bureaucrats put into the minds of Cherwell and Beaverbrook that this White Paper was a good thing. So both Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Cherwell spoke up for it when it came to Cabinet. This provoked from Churchill the remark, "I rely very much on Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Cherwell in all our consultations, and they very seldom agree. Now it seems that they are both in favour of the Cabinet approving the White Paper on a high and stable level of employment. Gentlemen, something must be very wrong." It went through on the nod and has become the basis on which all subsequent governments have built. So even there, in a tiny department compared with the huge Ministry of Food, the relationship between politician and bureaucrat didn't work too badly.

When the war was over, I was made the top hack in the Ministry of Education, under a Labour minister. Fortunately an Act had been passed before the end of the war, in 1944, on which all parties had agreed. Political controversy was therefore out of the way. From 1944, when that Act was passed, until 1964 when unfortunately partisanship broke out again, education was not a ball which was kicked from one enemy to another in the political arena. It was something on which there was general agreement in the country and consensus between party politicians. What we therefore chiefly needed from our Minister was to get sufficient building resources out of Cabinet rivals who wanted to build houses instead of schools, or factories instead of either; and our Minister did that for us. But the other fact which worked to our advantage was that the Act recognized education as an area where two levels of government, rather than one, would produce the best results. The Act therefore assumed that the main work of education would be done by the elected local education authorities--not school boards such as you have in Canada, but the general-purpose elected councils of counties and county boroughs. It was therefore the business of us bureaucrats in the central department to do as much as possible to give real freedom to the second level of government. And this, I think, is an example of a general truth: if you want good democratic government, the more you allow diversity through having more than one level of government, the more likely you are to have widespread consent and success. That is undoubtedly what did happen in education during the twenty post-war years of Labour and Tory governments.

When I went to Fuel and Power, the Tories were in office for the first time since the nationalization program of the Labour government had been put on the statute book. And fortunately here again Churchill (again Prime Minister) had very wisely agreed that though the Tories disapproved as much as ever of nationalization for nationalization's sake, yet where public utilities such as coal, gas, electricity and transport had been nationalized, they would not seek to reverse that decision but would make it work--even though, he added in a broadcast, "that may somewhat mar the symmetry of political debate". Fortunately, therefore, the political debate did not recur: instead, here was a Tory minister, and various succeeding ones whom I served as Deputy Minister, who wanted to make a success of the nationalized boards which were then responsible for coal, gas and electricity. The bureaucrat had the essential non-political job of keeping in personal touch and giving continuity to the relationship between the government politicians and those boards which were left, at arm's length, to do the best they could for the nationalized industries.

My conclusion is that, whatever Laski or the modern critics of this system of ours may say, it works better than any known alternative--and we can make it work still better. Many of us would like to have less government, but government is something that in this modern world of interdependent nation states we've got to have. And if you have government, you must have politicians. The politicians must take the important decisions and take them at the right time, and they must take the consequences. In other words, we must be able to remove them when they don't take decisions that we think successful, and we can re-elect them if they have done their job to our satisfaction.

Don't let there be any misunderstanding about this: in our democracy we must control the politicians, and politicians rather than any bureaucrat must take the big decisions. But if their decisions are to be wise, the politicians must have the indispensable help of the bureaucrat: because of their transient nature they need someone who will contribute the element of permanence and experience to their decision-taking. Note how a President of the United States, on taking office, has to appoint an almost completely new staff of top advisers. It must be an advantage for a new government (or a new minister who joins a government half way through its time) to find in each department a bunch of people under an experienced head whose first job it will be to put his minister in the picture--tell him what has been done under the previous administration, if it's a new government, or under the previous minister, and what his options are. That elements of permanence is what the transient democratic politician needs, and that the bureaucrat can give him.

Furthermore, the bureaucrat has a capacity, out of his past experience, to look further ahead than the immediate problem. The children of Britain have been permanently better than pre-war children because Lord Woolton and his bureaucrats deliberately invested milk in war-time babies and saw that school meals and milk were part of the nutrition of the new generation. That didn't help to win the war, but it meant that in consequence of the war Britain has become a healthier nation than it would otherwise have been. That's the kind of long-term interest which the scientists and the administrators who help a minister have got to see that he takes account of, as thank God, Lord Woolton did.

The bureaucrat not only has those longer-term responsibilities: he must be brave enough to speak up and propose things that are unpopular. He has got to put to the minister things which need doing, even if from a political point of view it would be very nice to forget them. That is the kind of bureaucrat which I've had the luck to see in action with politicians, and with politicians who have listened to him--who have insisted that he never pulls his punches; never becomes a yes-man who advises only what he thinks the minister will like; nor ever becomes a no-man, saying "that can't be done", but if what the minister suggests won't do, tries to suggest a better way to reach his objective.

That's why my conviction is that we will do well to carry on with this division of labour, and make it work. But we must do more than that. We must insist that politicians take the trouble to work towards as much consent as possible, using their bureaucrats in the process, using two levels of government rather than one, and keeping themselves out of decision-taking, whether in the field of industry or in the field of the arts, which can be better done by non-politicians expert in their respective fields of work. Most important of all, as thank God we have seen in Britain recently, we need to come together and achieve consent, if not consensus, rather than a confrontation which is in no one's interest. That's why we have, at last, succeeded in beginning to make progress towards the conquest of inflation. We've still got miles to go. But progress has been made because politicians_ have done what I think we ought to make them do: consult and find some compromise and measure of agreement, whether with trade unions or other interest groups, whether locally or functionally diverse.

This achievement, from which I think we can take courage in Britain, is something which we have got to carry much, much further. We live in very dangerous times. There is a real risk in all our western democracies of things breaking up, of a tearing of ourselves apart, of consent disappearing in confrontation, whether geographic or functional. I am reminded that before the war we were in even greater peril--peril which was put into a poem by the greatest poet of my lifetime, W. B. Yeats. And what he said was this:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Now that wisdom of Yeats was a prophecy that very, very nearly came true in the period before 1939. We were saved from the brink by people of conviction who came together in the nick of time and saved the world for justice and humanity. We today, in the United Kingdom, are coming together, I believe, in the same way. But just as we can't do without politicians and we can't do without bureaucrats, neither politician nor bureaucrat will succeed on our behalf unless we ordinary citizens, in my country and in Canada, have the conviction and determination to insist that no one shall tear us apart: that both politicians and bureaucrats concert their search for that diversity within one national purpose which all but the extremists desire and deserve.

Thank you, my friends, most warmly for giving me the honour of talking to you this afternoon, and may you have all possible success in the years that lie ahead, as I believe you will.

The appreciation of the audience was expressed by Mr. Charles C. Hoffman, Third Vice-President of The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Politician and the Bureaucrat

The conventional division between the politicians and the bureaucrat. The division in the United States and the Communist countries is very different. Similarities between Canada and Great Britain. A belief by the speaker in a continuation of this division, and a discussion on how and when it can work well. Examples from the U.K. The potential of the bureaucrat. The need for politicians to consult more with the bureaucrats.