Civil Serf was the pseudonym adopted by an anonymous blogger who recounted their experience of life in the British Civil Service at http://civilserf.blog.co.uk/ and was the source of much useful information, such as the fact that Gordon Brown had become known as 'Velcro' within the Civil Service. (Because all the shit sticks to him unlike dear old 'Teflon' Tony Blair.)
Civil Serf laid claim to revealing the "incompetence, chaos and ignorance" that prevailed in the "pointless and doomed" world of the Civil Service, as evidenced by such nuggets as;
- "There is a strong stench of deja-vu in the land of serfdom. We recycle the same policies with different names; ministers repeatedly make the same announcements; the same political footballs get kicked around the office...".
- Ministers only take decisions at the weekend (probably because they have their spouse and/or political adviser to do it for them).
- I know two people within eight desks of me whose jobs could be deleted overnight with no discernible impact on our performance.
- I've received a meeting request that probably deserves a mention in the Guinness Book of Records. It is for something called the 'People Action Team' (don't ask) and it is scheduled to last for a staggering seven hours ... Truly, there is no God.
The Civil Serf blog first appeared in November 2007, and over the succeeding weeks its author provided certain clues about their identity. It became clear that Civil Serf was thirty-three years of age, female, lived in London and, due to their frequent and invariably critical references to Peter Hain, probably worked at the Department of Work and Pensions. A further clue was her claim that she was "just senior enough in my department to really know what's going on", whilst she was "not senior enough to attract suspicion".
This might well have been true until, that is, the existence of the Civil Serf blog was publicised in the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday of the 9th March 2008, and by the Sunday evening anyone attempting to access her blog was greeted by the entirely unhelpful message "Error. This page does not exist." Although there suggestions at the time that this might have been at Civil Serf's own request, it seems most likely that this was as a result of government action, as soon afterwards it was clear that the hunt was on to track down the mole inside Whitehall. According to the Daily Mail, the government "dedicated a team of computer experts to track her down across the internet", and found their own source who described the "extraordinary outlay of resources" as a whole team of crack Civil Servants "was told to clear their desks of everything except their hunt for Civil Serf".
The Daily Mail of the 15th March 2008 subsequently reported that Civil Serf had "been identified and suspended", and that she had been "stripped of her Government laptop" and that her security clearance had been revoked. An official spokesman appeared to explain that "All civil servants are expected to abide by a code of conduct. We are investigating whether there has been any breach." Since then however, all has become silence, and no further word has been forthcoming as to the precise identity of Civil Serf.
Visitors to the previous home of the Civil Serf blog will now find a statement headed 'Not the Civil Serf blog' written by one Simon Dickson a 'principal consultant' at Puffbox Ltd. Although Mr Dickson is at pains to explain that he had no association with the original Civil Serf blog, he does note that "someone did a remarkably good job of wiping it from the records". He then helpfully directs those who want "something to read on the subject" to a number of alternative blogs written by individuals, "many of whom are current or former civil servants themselves". Unfortunately these largely consist of pointless twitterings about social networking and e-government and are a far cry from the bleak and cynical voice of truth that once was Civil Serf.
- Royah Nikkhah, Blogger lifts lid on Whitehall failings, Sunday Telegraph, 08/03/2008
- Hunt is on for the "Civil Serf" demon blogger of Whitehall, The Sunday Times, March 9, 2008
- Ian Drury, Who is the civil serf? Hunt for blogger lifting lid on incompetent ministers, Mail on Sunday, 9th March 2008
- Jill Sherman, Whitehall crackdown on bloggers and social networks after Civil Serf, The Times, March 10, 2008
- James Kirkup, Whitehall gag after Serf's blog rebellion, Daily Telegraph, 11/03/2008
- Sarah Oliver, Cult blogger Civil Serf identified and suspended from Whitehall, Daily Mail, 15th March 2008