Remember Partygate? Seems so long ago now doesn’t it? I remember my first thought on reading the story was “Why now?” Those hundred people in that notorious email loop must probably have meant something more like a thousand people – in the London beltway of politicos, civil servants and journos – who must have known about all this for eleven months already. And as the story wasdrip-fed to us in carefully calibrated outrage-sized doses, my thoughts then turned to pondering just how little media attention, in the general run of things, normally gets directed at the machinery of government; the civil service and Great British Blobosphere that surrounds it.

British television has, in the past, yielded some marvellous satirical sitcoms of all this – Yes Minister in the ‘80s and The Thick of It in the ‘00s. Both brilliantly captured the bumbling and the self-serving that must surely be the nature of any bureaucratic leviathan anywhere in the world. But these satires were coy about another universal; the one pithily captured in Robert Conquest’s apocryphal third law of politics: “Any organisation not explicitly right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing”.

In the liberal democracies we set great store by our pluralist party politics and such is the obsessive media coverage of its gladiatorial contests between elected politicians – before, during and after the event – that it can appear to represent more or less the whole story of how we are governed. Whereas in truth it very much depends on which party is “in power”.

Unsurprisingly, neither governmental bureaucracies and quangos nor other civil institutions keep statistics on the political leanings of their employees. But there are clues. Unherd columnist Peter Franklin reflecting on his own experience of working in two UK government departments comments: “How many of the civil servants that most closely serve this Conservative government are actually Left wing? Well… I would say approximately all of them”. And it’s not just the UK. Research in the US context finds that “the political beliefs of the median federal government employee lie to the left not only of the median Republican, but also the median Democrat” 

You do not necessarily need to warm much to the British Conservative Party to see this as a worm in the apple of pluralist liberal democracy. The worm is the half a century and more of progressive radicalism in the Western academy that has taken root now, not just in the Civil Service, but in most graduate-entry professional walks of life. Electoral pluralism is no match against an academia-media complex powered and energised by a feedback loop between the overwhelmingly left-wing academy and the largely left-wing media.

Ambitious young minds of the future elite have been drawn – for three or more highly impressionable years – through a kind of intellectual sheep dip; especially so in the case of the social sciences and humanities.

Civil administrators tend to be overwhelmingly drawn from these social science and humanities backgrounds and only rarely from STEM backgrounds. The ideal of democratic pluralism has thus come to be more and more compromised by a politically mono-cultural permanent administrative class. Political commentary (including conservative commentary), preoccupied as it always is with the gladiatorial drama, has long shied away from confronting this reality; of “a system (Franklin again) that churns out a hostile graduate workforce from which the civil service is recruited”.

And whilst we’re on the metaphors, is there an elephant – or should we say more accurately a leviathan – in the conservative room? This is the fear of admitting that the policy agenda they have sold to the public at election time is regularly being quietly “improved” (i.e. neutered and made more civil service-friendly) at the legislative drafting stage. Sometimes ministers find themselves at war with their own Whitehall machine but even more times they simply cave in because there isn’t really that much they can realistically do about it. The Leviathan coils itself around their precious policy agenda and squelches the life out of it.

Like Priti Patel insisting that the Home Office find ways to send the migrant boats back to France. She will have forgotten how many of her team have second homes there. “Ils font mieux les choses en France” as British senior civil servants like to say. This will be the likely backstory of the notorious “bullying her staff” accusations. Either that or a naive ministerial attempt to get them to look at ways to get our police forces to pivot away from “counselling” victims and championing fashionable causes and towards actually catching perpetrators. Maybe she was shouting at them about how it is little thanks to the police and criminal justice system that the public is mostly law-abiding with crime “solved” rates currently below 10% and conviction rates even lower.

After all, Britain’s bloated, parasitically litigious legal culture is just as big a problem – if not bigger – but you don’t see justice secretaries getting hot under the collar and upsetting their Ministry of Justice staffs by expecting them to flesh out realistic legislative proposals to change any of that. Anyway what about The European Court of Human Rights, eh?

It must have been the same sort of thing in 2014 that got Education Secretary Michael Gove “reshuffled”. The Blob didn’t even need to break into a sweat before the Cameron government caved in. “Yes Michael, yes of course you are right that, if educational qualifications are once more to be meaningful, both Ofsted and teacher training would need to be rebuilt, entirely freed from the disastrous theorising of recent decades but, but…”  Maybe Gove was trying to force David to read Melanie Phillips’ All Must Have Prizes and banging on too long about the absurdity of equating children filling in multiple-choice tick boxes with demonstrating their knowledge in sentence form.

Any government that tried to challenge the current progressive “consensus” would not just be at war with their own civil service. They would be at war with every civic, quasi-governmental, charitable and academic institution. They would be at war with an immensely powerful, octopus-like legal establishment. Needless to say they would be at war with the media. Given how limited would be their power in the face of all this, perhaps the best thing would be to admit it. To acknowledge, in other words, its complicity, over many decades, in a cultural shape shift – one that the voting public never positively asked for; just passively accepted.

Some say that the truth is overrated. Certainly a government admitting to having rather limited executive power in the face of blob-like civil service inertia could sound weak. It certainly would be presented as such. Why bother voting for them then? Of course the leftish metropolitan middle class would be even further alienated. But for potentially large sections of the public – exasperated by a constant stream of Daily Mail-type “you couldn’t make it up” stories – to hear politicians finally acknowledging some hard, unvarnished truths could be greeted as a refreshing change. It would be no use, of course, without convincing signs that they would use their days in the political sun to doggedly and consistently try to turn back the tide.

In terms of short-term legislative agenda, the realistically achievable goals would be few. One would be the reigning-in of (currently massive) public funding of politically partisan proselytising institutions. Deeper reform would take way more than five years. The mainstream media would howl “Fascists” at every turn. But so what? The much riskier problem – because it could have volatile and socially destabilising consequences at least in the short term – would be admitting that you were at war with all the institutions that you, as a government, are supposed to be in charge of. At war with them because they are all riddled with left-wing dogma. A government talking in such terms would stir up one hell of a storm. Maybe that is just what is needed.

Graham Cunningham is a retired architect and occasional contributor to various magazines and journals in the UK, US and Australia.