Civil service “political impartiality” is a hypocritical sham
Statement by James Robb, Workers Now candidate for Panmure-Ōtāhuhu
Irrespective of its reasons, the sacking of Chairman Rob Campbell from Te Whatu Ora–Health New Zealand constitutes an attack on the right of workers employed by the state to express their opinions on political matters. It was not so long ago that all ‘state servants,’ including nurses in state hospitals and school teachers, were banned from taking any part in political life and expressing their political opinions, on the same spurious grounds of ‘impartiality’ that were used against Campbell. It was a step forward for workers’ political rights when these restrictions were driven back.
The civil servants’ “code of conduct” principle of ‘political impartiality’ is a sham and a fraud, and always has been. What the state demands of its senior civil servants – and what it constantly tries to extend to their juniors as well – is loyalty to the capitalist class. It achieves this in the case of their senior appointees by drawing the vast majority of them from the world of business, and by paying them incomes equivalent to those of senior business executives. There is a supplementary recruitment to these positions from the ranks of “social activists” whom the government is seeking to co-opt into these ruling class circles (and Rob Campbell was himself one of these, originally a left-leaning a trade unionist who was appointed to the boards of various state enterprises including NZ Post and the Bank of New Zealand.) The notion that these people are forbidden from expressing their political view in order that they might serve the whole people is false and hypocritical.
Campbell’s claim that the real reason for his dismissal was that he was continuing to highlight the inequalities faced by Maori in accessing health care, and that this irritated the government, may have an element of truth to it. Campbell was criticising opposition policy. But the two big capitalist parties disagree about very little of substance. They constantly steal votes from each other by stealing each other’s policies. Right now Prime Minister Hipkins is stealing votes from National Party leader Luxon by stealing his policies on Three Waters and co-governance (among other things) – i.e. backing off from them – as quietly as possible. That’s why Campbell’s social media comments were such an annoyance to the government.
Despite the high level of agreement between the big parties on all the important questions, capitalist politics is increasingly factionalised. The growing party-political factionalism in the civil service bureaucracy is a part of this trend, and it is true that it makes capitalist rule more unstable. That is their problem, not ours. In this situation the working class, including the part of it that is employed directly by the state, needs the fullest possible freedom to express and debate political views, without fear of being sacked in consequence.
Campbell’s dismissal does not strengthen public control over government appointees. On the contrary, it places all state employees under even tighter political control by the government of the day, on pain of similar summary dismissal.