The institution of the permanent civil service, I have suggested, generates significant benefits for the quality of public policy, delivery of public services, and ultimately, promotion of social welfare. It is also, one might add, an arrangement that seems objectively rather improbable. Clearly, the more natural impulse of politicians is to bring in partisans, or individuals of demonstrated loyalty, to fill major staff positions. Of course, back in the 18th century, when public offices were bought and sold, politicians had no choice but to accept the existence of permanent officials—evicting someone from office would have been akin to depriving him of his property. In the modern world, however, what makes permanence possible is the institution of civil service neutrality. I describe this as an “institution” because, while there are a few explicit rules and regulations that public servants must follow, the bulk of the commitment to neutrality takes the form of an unwritten code of conduct, a component of the system of professional ethics that governs administrative behaviour. And while this conduct has not been officially codified, it is of sufficient importance to the practice of Westminster-style government that many commentators have taken to describing it as a “constitutional convention.”
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