Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

Jacob Rees-Mogg has been urged to read a history book after making a spurious claim to level yet another attack on the civil service.

The Tory MP last year hit out at public sector workers in his drive to get people to return to the office at the end of the Covid pandemic when he was government efficiency minister.

Infamously, he left notes on their desks in Whitehall, saying: “Sorry you were out when I visited. I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon. With every good wish, Rt Hon Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.”

Earlier this year, the former cabinet minister shared a story by the Daily Mail about a planned strike by civil servants, commenting: “If they are not in the office will anyone notice?”

And on his GB News show on Wednesday, he went for the public sector again – this time evoking Britain’s colonial past to make his point.

In an opening monologue, Rees-Mogg suggested when “Britannia ruled the waves” it did so “frugally and efficiently”, and claimed: “If we could rule a quarter of the world’s population with 175 Foreign Office staff, there’s no reason why we cannot run our island nation today with 40,000 civil servants.”

The claim doesn’t pass the smell test, but what actually is a more accurate number?

Research on a blog on the National Archives website – looking into whether 4,000 civil servants ran the Empire – suggests: “Total figures are extremely difficult to come up with, but we would suspect that it would have been at least 40,000 in the UK at the turn of the 19th/20th century.

“Given the work of the armed forces in the administration of Empire, it’s probably fair to include the armed forces and local colonial administration. In which case, the 4,000 is probably out by a factor of around 30.”

Indeed, social media wasn’t having any of his “fake history” or “imperial nostalgia”.

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