*Disclaimer (for all it seems to be worth)* – These are my own personal feelings (can you get the distinction?), thoughts and reflections on the events of this weekend and its implications. I met Sarah – funnily enough, through Twitter – earlier this year. Since then she has become a very close friend of whom I am proud and totally supportive. Apologies if this is rambling…
I’m just back home from visiting my friend Sarah Baskerville, aka @baskers to those on Twitter – at yes, *gasp* one of our local pubs. Pubs – you know – those traditional British meeting places, often also frequented by self-serving journalists – where we *gasp* drink. She’s trying to get her head around just what the hell happened this weekend as are the rest of us. She’s shocked, exhausted, worried, and confused. The normal feelings of anyone subject to a national media hate campaign.
We had had word late on Friday afternoon that there may be a story in the next day’s The Daily Mail about Sarah. Little did we know quite what was in store for us on Saturday morning. I awoke to a DM from Sarah with a link to the article by Quentin Letts attacking Sarah in such a bitter, vile, personal way. To say that my jaw dropped back onto the pillow may have been an understatement. And then for the usually decent Independent on Sunday to come out with this piece of dross today was even more stunning. (There is another piece of page 4 of The Sunday Times but as it sits behind the Murdoch paywall I can’t link).
Why on earth single Sarah out in such a way? Why not me as well? It could have been me – one of the quoted tweets that Sarah supposedly supported was mine (yes the Bush one, surprise surprise to all those that know me! and I don’t and won’t apologise for it). Or it could have been any of the other hundreds of tweeting civil servant. And another matter here – can she actually be named like this as a mid-level civil servant? I was under the impression that under SCS, staff can’t usually be named publicly like this…
The outpouring of support was instant and huge. Sarah has been stunned and encouraged and buoyed by it all – it has made the past 2 days a little bit more bearable. I watched her face change as we talked tonight about the incident itself and then turning to how much support she has had. I’ve had people DMing me about it as well – wanting to pass on messages to Sarah.
None of these journalists (and the majority of the public reading these scurrilous articles) know a thing about Sarah. They’ve taken a series of random tweets completely out of context and twisted their meaning for their own ends.
Sarah is one of the most passionate, caring, dedicated civil servants I know. Sarah cares deeply about the public sector and wears her heart on her sleeve. Much as I do. So much so that she is a pioneer of giving the world a glimpse of the face of a real civil servant. And surprise surprise it isn’t always a rosy world. She doesn’t work on the so called ‘front line’ (don’t get me started on this fallacy – how can the front line work properly without back office functions to support it all) but what she does is equally important. She worked on developing the old COINS database. She knows more about how it works and what it does than just about anyone. Her contribution to open data (oddly enough one of the current government’s main priorities) is widely known and without doubt. She keeps an important part of a big Whitehall department going.
Sarah has tweeted about the coming job cuts and other funding cuts and her daily job. Who amongst us doesn’t have endless meetings every day with heaps of endless paperwork to read through?
She gives anyone who follows her (and anyone in the world can do so) a glimpse into what it is actually like to have to fill in endless business cases and HR forms etc just to keep essential staff. And on top of that the redundancies we are all facing across government (myself included again) – it’s a gut wrenching, horrible, painful process. Sarah is giving us a bit of a human-faced insight into this process. I’ve just had a glimpse of the start of this process whilst on loan to COI and believe me it isn’t nice.
Why shouldn’t she talk about these things? She’s not giving away any state secrets or damaging any part of the civil service or the running of government. In fact, quite the opposite, she is humanising a faceless part of the civil service. Don’t those journalists and commentators always rabbit on about ‘those faceless Whitehall bureaucrats?’ Damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
Sarah does a wide variety of work outside of working hours – work around open data, open government, social media, etc. Most nights after work will find her doing something along these lines. Isn’t this a bit of Big Society in action? How many other civil servants can say this? I’ve know her to take work home and that damned Blackberry is always hanging about with its evil blinking red eye….
Sarah has NEVER criticised the department she works for. Moreover, it is blatantly obvious that her opinions expressed on Twitter and elsewhere are her own personal opinions. Are we as civil servants not allowed those anymore? Having my own opinions doesn’t stop me doing my day job in the slightest – I work hard to save the taxpayer money, deliver value for money and make this country a better place – regardless of who the government is and what my opinions are. Its part and parcel of being in the Civil Service. If I am supposed to lose my freedom of speech in my personal life, I’m right out the door (that American side of me is unbelievably passionate about free speech).
The fear now is that civil servants will go to ground and stop engaging – I’ll admit I’ve locked my Twitter account down for the time being but I shall still be tweeting to my followers and accepting new ones (so long as I know you (at the moment at least)). I sincerely hope that everyone else keeps up their tweeting, blogging, etc.
Something has to change. The world is changing – social media is a great democratiser and the powers that be everywhere are starting to get scared. But there is nothing to be scared of. The Civil Service, politicians and media should embrace this, not be frightened of it. We need to open up, share and bring everyone along with us. And Sarah inspires me to do this on a daily basis.
I’m trying to maintain a list of all the blogs, posters and songs that are being done in Sarah’s honour. I’ve missed anything please add as a comment and I’ll update.