Attack on @baskers and the public sector

Dafydd Vaughan on 14 November 2010

Disclaimer (just in-case you haven’t noticed the statement in the sidebar of this blog): These are my own personal thoughts and not those of my employer.

I’m disappointed. Over the past few months a concerted media campaign against public sector workers has been building. We are continually portrayed as being lazy and overpaid, not only by the ‘old’ media (by which I mean the traditional print media in general) but also by MPs and our ‘bosses’ in Government. An image has been created of thousands of staff sat around twiddling their thumbs while earning footballer-style fat salaries, not to mention huge benefits, fabulous working conditions and cushy pensions to boot – all at the taxpayer’s expense.

This image couldn’t be further from the truth. Pretty much every public sector employee I’ve met is hard working and passionate about the work they do – you’d have to be to put up with everything that gets thrown at us. Many are prepared to put in extra effort and spend their own time furthering causes such as open government data. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some who aren’t as dedicated, but these will be in the minority.

As public sector workers, the media and some of the general public seem to think that we should additionally be super-heroes. We should be perfect, always motivated, and never have a view on anything. Unfortunately this is just not the case, and despite what some people might like you to think, we are human. Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we have trouble getting motivated, and sometimes we express ourselves – both in private and in public.

This is particularly the case when it comes to the cuts following the budget in June, the “bonfire of the quangos” and the Comprehensive Spending Review in October. Many of us have an axe hovering over our heads, yet we’re expected to continue as if nothing is happening. My employer, Consumer Focus, has been abolished. This means that at some point in the future (when isn’t yet confirmed), my job will cease to exist and I will be made redundant. Despite this, I’m expected to remain motivated and continue as normal.

This weekend, “journalists” from both the Daily Mail and the Independent have written articles* about Ms Sarah Baskerville (aka @baskers), a civil servant working for the Department for Transport. They have taken excerpts from her twitter stream to suggest that she drinks, turns up to work with hangovers, criticises government policy and is wasting public money.

I’ve never met Sarah, but I have followed her on twitter for a while and I don’t think I can articulate a better defence than has already been written by numerous others. This is a disgraceful personal attack on someone who has put a huge amount of effort into making government more open and transparent. Is it really that unusual to express boredom while attending a training course? – I’m sure we’ve all been there. Is it really wrong for someone to have a few drinks after work? – I’m sure journalists never do this. Is it really that bad to express dismay at so many people you know and work with losing their jobs?

I’m disappointed at these continued and demoralising attacks on the public sector and I’m concerned. I’m concerned that the Daily Mail and the Independent’s actions will lead to unwillingness from other public sector workers to express themselves online – which will mean a more closed and less transparent government.

I hope that the rest of the media will disown the actions of these two “journalists” and I hope that Sarah doesn’t have too much of a hard time at work in the morning.

* I don’t intend to link to either of these articles, but they can be easily found through your preferred search engine.

4 comments on “Attack on @baskers and the public sector

  1. I have followed Sarah for ages. i think she’s mega. She has brought the mysterious work of Westminster alive. I don’t think you can call the #dailyfail and #indiefail writers ‘journalists’ – they are the reason newspapers are dying out. Pour quality content. Not worth killing a tree for.
    Today has been dull without Baskers tweets. That’s all. I hope she’s ok. She has a great family. They will keep her up.
    She has a lot of twitterfriends. They will welcome her back when she’s ready.
    Nice post.

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