It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the news that the British government may not be able to exit Europe any time soon, or even at all, because it no longer has enough qualified people to do the negotiating. Thus does history get its revenge upon Margaret Thatcher and, wherever the vicious old bitch may currently be residing, I hope she’s sorry.
When I joined in the 1970s, the British public service employed enough people to do decent job, and was, indeed, admired around the world for the job it did. Not the least of the reasons for that was that there was a rational system of allocating staff and other resources according to need. All that changed in the 1980s, when cash started to rule, and the only thing that mattered was reaching financial targets even if you couldn’t actually do the job. And so began the incessant, endless pogrom against the public sector, as fewer and fewer people struggled with more and more work in a environment which seemed increasingly hostile to having a public sector at all.
And now, gosh, look. The Government needs the public sector, only to find it’s not there any more. In my day the Foreign Office was probably the best diplomatic service in the world, and capably led the negotiations with Europe over forty years. But the good people have mostly left, and those who are still there, and those who have joined recently, are not as good.
Maybe Whitehall will have the last laugh, after all.