For Tony Blair, they were the “forces of conservatism”. For Margaret Thatcher they were an inefficient bureaucracy that needed to be scaled back. British civil servants have been described as the envy of the world but to many ministers they are little more than a block on their most coveted policy ambitions.
Yes, Prime Minister, the sitcom that personified the devious and obstructive mandarin in the character of Sir Humphrey Appleby, returned to British television this week after a 15-year gap. And, for many ministers, the world it depicts, in which officials prevent them from carrying out manifesto promises and protect the status quo at all costs, is as true today as it was in the sitcom’s 1980s heyday.