The rogue civil service tweet spoke for most of us. I hope the author isn't found | The civil servant

It wasn’t me, but I can probably speak for most of the 400,000-odd civil servants when I say I wish it had been. The (presumed) rogue official whose hastily deleted tweet on the government’s official Civil Service account certainly lit up the WhatsApp groups around Whitehall on Sunday evening. In an age of increasing command-and-control comms, this brave heretic has already become something of a civil service legend. Very well played.

Consider. “Arrogant and defensive. Can you imagine working with these truth twisters?” wasn’t a leaked document, a shocking secret or a devastating meme. It was a simple, excoriating judgment of the prime minister’s incoherent defence of Dominic Cummings that not even Larry the Downing Street cat would disagree with.

This was speaking truth to power. This was a shot across the bow. This was a tiny flare sent up from the government trenches, in solidarity with anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been “sent over the top” by an implacable ruling class for whom the rules themselves are increasingly a disposable commodity.

Sure, that account might have been hacked, but to me its brevity and its polite lucidity reek of authenticity and suggests the act of a single brave individual.

The Cabinet Office quickly announced that the tweet had been deleted, and that it was launching an investigation into what happened. But I hope they never find its author. And if they do, I’d argue that he or she should qualify for the protection that the government by law has to provide for whistleblowers, who, after all, are allowed to break government omertà when there are miscarriages of justice, fraud, dangers to health and safety, or attempts to conceal any of the above.

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That kind of argument probably won’t be enough to convince any future employment tribunal that this anonymous hero was justified in breaking the civil service code, but it’s a hell of a lot stronger than the arguments deployed in defence of Cummings. If there’s any justice, if my colleague is uncovered, he or she will face the same consequences as the prime minister’s chief adviser did, which will be bugger all (although Durham police might have other ideas).

What is sad and damaging about this particular lockdown clusterbourach is not just the additional pressure now placed on public health messaging, but about the deteriorating trust in government, its conventions and its institutions.

There is now no longer even the pretence that the British public are currently governed by the law of moral equivalence – the radical idea that whatever is wrong for you must also be wrong for me.

Civil servants aren’t naive – we know that no politician is above appealing to exceptionalism of one kind or another. But the sheer amounts of it that have been enthusiastically spaffed by the cabinet and the prime minister in defence of Cummings over the past couple of days have shocked, dismayed and enraged the public and civil servants alike.

As ever, it’s not the rule-breaking itself that hurts us, it’s the lack of concern about the damage being done to cover it up. Only time and the public inquiry that is surely coming down the line will tell the true extent of this. It’s entirely plausible that the undermining of the lockdown rules so carefully set out by public health officials may yet be counted in lives lost.

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Meanwhile, the sobering reality for the civil service twitterer is that the Cabinet Office praetorian guard will spend more energy trying to identify them than it ever will on investigating Cummings’s lockdown misdeeds. The hunt may now be on, but the resistance continues.

The civil servant works in a Whitehall department



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