In the months before the British general election of 2010, one of my responsibilities as Conservative Party Leader David Cameron’s senior adviser was to help prepare for what we hoped would soon be our first days and months in government.
We put together detailed implementation plans for our key policy priorities, devised a system of progress reporting to keep everything on track, and discussed how to organize things at 10 Downing Street and across Whitehall (the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the federal government).
As part of that process I spoke to a wide range of people who had worked inside government in various roles, to get their insights and advice. That included – in a somewhat clandestine way, given the fact that he was once a political opponent – former Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair. It was a fascinating conversation. Whatever you might think of his record, there’s no question that Blair is an incredibly impressive political figure with enormous experience.
Blair was candid and thoughtful, and gave us a brilliant primer on what he’d learned about making the machinery of government work. But there was one thing above all that stood out from our conversation: his blunt warning about the administrative state and the attitude any incoming government would face from the permanent bureaucracy.
“You cannot underestimate how much they believe it’s their job to actually run the country and to resist the changes put forward by people they dismiss as ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians,” Blair said. “They genuinely see themselves as the true guardians of the national interest, and think that their job is simply to wear you down and wait you out.”
That, in a nutshell, is the Deep State. And Blair’s warning was prophetic, as I discovered even before Cameron took office as prime minister.
One of our key priorities was government transparency. We had pledged to publish details of everything the British government spent money on, as well as the names, job descriptions and the organizational charts of the entire civil service, so citizens could see what their government did.
In a meeting ahead of the election, Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Gus O’Donnell asked me and David Cameron: “Of course you don’t really mean all this government transparency stuff, do you?” When I replied that we very much did, O’Donnell gave me a knowing look and said: “Yes. Well, we’ll see about that.”
And indeed, once we were in office the civil service bureaucracy fought tooth and nail against the publication of any information at all about the scope and functions of the bureaucracy.
I’m reminded of all this today as we debate the notion of a Deep State here in America, in the light of the Republic congressional memo issued Friday that accuses the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their powers to spy on a Trump campaign adviser. This ties into the ongoing discussion around establishment resistance to Donald Trump’s candidacy and presidency.
Since moving to the U.S. in 2012 and immersing myself in American politics, I have now spoken to enough people with experience of government here to know that the problem of an entrenched permanent bureaucracy – with its own agenda, determined to thwart the aims of elected politicians – is if anything an even bigger problem here than the one Tony Blair warned me about in Britain.
But it’s only recently that this has come to the attention of American citizens. In large part this is due to the cozy, insular world of the Washington swamp. When the politicians, the bureaucrats, the lobbyists, the journalists, the think tank leaders and the donors all live in the same swanky neighborhoods, all go to the same dinner parties and all send their children to the same schools, a culture of arrogance and insularity inevitably follows.
These swamp dwellers are invested in keeping their power and influence, and that depends on not rocking the boat. Don’t ask too many questions. Don’t dig too deep. Keep the show on the road. That’s why the swamp is up in arms about the idea that anyone should question the FBI or the Justice Department – it’s simply not done.
Well, all that changed with the election of President Trump. An outsider stormed the barricades, eager to disrupt the snooty, self-serving world of our ruling elite, with the public cheering him on. No wonder they swamp dwellers resist him. No wonder they want to crush him. He represents a mortal threat to their interests and their way of life.
Of course, they dress up their resistance in high-minded rhetoric about protecting the Constitution. But in reality, it is the ruling elite that is undermining democratic norms, by subverting the core of our democratic process: the idea that we the people should be in charge, through the representatives we elect.
The Deep State has a different idea: not “We the People” but “You the People, ruled by We the Elite.”
So yes, there is a Deep State in America and it has its own agenda. Not just in the Justice Department and the FBI, but throughout the federal government. Dismantling this Deep State in the name of our democracy must be a top priority in the years ahead.
We will investigate in SwampWatch this Sunday on “The Next Revolution” at 9 p.m. EST on Fox News Channel. Hope you can join us!