For the first time, I venture outside my comfort zone of medical sciences and address Mycroft’s career and postulate who his masters might be.
One thing about working on the NHS is that the doctors in many respects are civil servants. We are accountable to our patients but also to our political masters. I explore:
- The political structure of the UK government (rather incoherently)
- Why Mycroft’s masters might be completely mundane
- What Mycroft actually does in his “minor government position”
(Image credit to ViaEstelar)
Sherlock Metas Master Post - a comprehensive list of all my other metas.
This particularly idea about Mycroft’s masters sprung to mind after I read the news that Jeremy Hunt was made the health secretary. Jeremy Hunt has trouble understanding that hiding behind a tree does not make you invisible but he is now in charge of dictating the direction of the NHS!
I am not an expert on government and politics and this is entire meta is just a bit of fun.
Mycroft’s masters need not be superhuman, shadowy figures of myth and legend – they are more likely to be clueless politicians who have no idea what they are doing.
Opening the Doors of the Cabinet
Here is a short explanation for people who live in other countries about how British politics works.
Our Prime Minister (who only got slightly more than one third of the votes) “runs the country”. He appoints MPs (members of parliament) to a group called the Cabinet. These people are inevitably from his political party (or if there is a coalition government from his ally’s party as well).
The Cabinet contains MPs who hold the most power offices in the land. The four great offices of state: the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Treasurer), the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary are all in the Cabinet. As are more minor positions such as Health Secretary.
Remember these ministers are appointed by the Prime Minister and we, the public, have absolutely no say in his decision. No prior experience of any kind is needed for any ministerial position. In fact most of the time, the appointment ministers have little or no knowledge or experience of the position they have been appointed to. George Osborne does not have an economics degree – nor is he an economist but he is full control of the British economy!
Additionally Cabinet ministers never stay in the same post for more than one election term, most of the time they don’t even stay in their posts throughout the entire five years. David Cameron (our PM) has just reshuffled his Cabinet and appointed different people (who have even less experience) to some of the most important posts.
Jeremy Hunt for example was the Culture Secretary before he was made the Health Secretary. Understandably people are asking: “what the **** does he know about health?” However the future of the NHS is now in this man’s hands. He has a huge amount of power in deciding what can and can’t be done, how much funding will be available, how the new policies are implemented etc.
Of course government ministers have advisors but this sadly makes them less inclined to listen to people outside their circle. Andrew Lansley the previous health secretary passed a reform of the NHS despite complete opposition from doctors and nurses. Ministers are free to choose who they appoint as advisors and they often use people they already know and have similar ideologies. Voices of dissent and debate can be easily ignored when your advisors are only telling you just how right you are.
Order in the Midst of Chaos
Now that you have seen just how random the British Government actually is, you might wonder why this little island hasn’t descended into chaos yet?
We have Mycroft (or a lot of people who when amalgamated together amount to Mycroft)
The idea that Mycroft is a civil servant and the shadow British government is not farfetched – civil servants actually run the country. If they didn’t, Britain would be paralysed with every government change over, every cabinet reshuffle and every hung parliament. The politicians dictate what they want; the bureaucrats try to work around them to keep our small island from sinking into the sea. When Irene talks about Mycroft’s masters, she is not referring to some shadow organisation of Freemason style secrecy – she is referring to his political masters, in particular the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister.
Like MI5, I assume that whatever Mycroft’s position is, he is still nominally accountable to either the Home Secretary or directly to the Prime Minister. The Home Secretary can be anything from a career politician with many years in government to a public school boy who’s fresh out of Eton – it depends entirely on who the Prime Minister appoints. Therefore Mycroft would have to deal with a string of different politicians with varying skills, experiences and ideologies wanting ten impossible things before breakfast.
Our current Home Secretary is Theresa May. She has a long career in politics dating back to 1986. However she only became Home Secretary for the first time in 2010. The Home Secretary has a huge responsibility: she is responsible for the Intelligence Services (indirectly some parts of MI6 and directly the whole of MI5), immigration, policing to name but a few.
Remember it is very unlikely that any of the Home Secretaries Mycroft has to work with have little experience outside of politics. Although, Theresa May worked for the Bank of England before she moved to politics. Career politicians today enter the profession at a young age without any other work experience. They often have no idea what targets are achievable and what would really benefit the country in the long term. They also have no incentive to implement policies that will bring long term rewards for the country as opposed to short term political kudos for the next election. Their posts are only transitory positions; they may hope to become Chancellor, or Justice Secretary or Minister for Work and Pensions in the future.
It is the job of the civil servants to actually make sure the country functions on a day to day basis and to plan in the long term for future generations. A job in the civil service used to be a job for life and when the Prime Minister is but a faded remembrance they will still be there working to keep the country afloat.
It is quite clear from Mycroft’s interactions with John in TGG that he is a master manipulator. He managed to persuade John to take the case Sherlock refused within minutes. He used just the right motivator (national security) that would appeal to a dedicated soldier like John. Not to mention the subtle hints at the adventurous nature of the task which really only amounted to John inspecting a railway line.
He needs to develop these masterful manipulation skills simply to direct the next crop of politicians away from plunging the country into ruin. He’s probably got his hands full with David Cameron and George Osbourne.
Although we have scant information to go on, many fans have proposed that Mycroft is in the Old Boy’s Club. I’m not sure whether he is a member of the true aristocracy but he certainly appears to be comfortable in their circles and it is likely that he went to a public school such as Eton. If he was at Eton he might have been there at the same time as David Cameron, Michael Gove and Boris Johnston (the Mayor of London). Therefore Mycroft would personally know the several Cabinet Ministers very well, which would give him a huge advantage when it comes to manipulating the great offices of state.
I personally believe that Mycroft is actually engaged in disaster management. He wouldn’t be running the country in minute detail on a daily basis (there are minions for that); he attends to the crises that erupt and smooth over the “bumps” in the road as it were.
Crises in the modern era usually involve some sort of threat to national security, which explains how Mycroft ended up planning the Bond Air fiasco. However he would not have done so independently, he would have been asked to help out by MI5/MI6.
Side Note: MI5, the Security Service, is responsible for national security, domestic espionage and counter-espionage. MI6, the Secret Intelligence Service, is responsible for gathering foreign intelligence. GCHQ is the eavesdropping centre of Great Britain and monitors communications within the UK and abroad. Together, the three agencies are directed by the Joint Intelligence Commission (JIC), which sets priorities and targets.
I do not believe Mycroft heads his own separate intelligence agency; he definitely has employees but not an entire intelligence department with the resources capable of gathering international intelligence. Therefore he must have worked very closely with MI5 and MI6 (if the terrorists were internationals) to uncover the plot and create the solution. He is not a part of the establish structure of either intelligence department – they are consulting him.
In the same way that Sherlock is free to take only the cases he finds interesting, Mycroft may also have a great deal of influence over what projects he chooses to assist the Intelligence Services with. Additionally, his capacity was a consultant means he can either be very hands-on or stay in the peripheries and give advice. Given how much he hates leg work and most of intelligence is surveillance, I assume that cases are only bought to Mycroft’s attention if there is already a mounting pile of evidence and MI5/MI6 need him to diffuse the situation/solve the specific problem they have put their finger on. Neither Mycroft nor his employees need actually be involved in the mundane spying activities.
Mycroft’s employees are there to support him in his capacity as an advisor to the Intelligence Services (and any other government agency that might need his help: e.g. the Foreign Office). They are in effect more like glorified PAs than trained special operatives.
I imagine he enjoys and cherishes his autonomy from the rigid hierarchy of the intelligence services. Like Sherlock, he wants to work with the establishment but not actually be subjected to its rules.
However being involved in anything of national importance requires an official job and official clearance. Mycroft evidently requires a great deal of power, influence and resources in order to perform his tailored role within the British Government. Therefore a good nominal employer and source of funding for Mycroft Holmes is the civil service. Senior civil servants are given high level clearance should the need arise. A nominal civil service post also has fewer restrictions and draws less attention from foreign powers than an official post at MI5/MI6.
I doubt he is actually in charge of the Civil Service e.g. the Cabinet Secretary (the top job) or the Director General. These positions require a great deal of responsibility, and carry administrative and ceremonial obligations. On paper he must occupy a minor position in the British government; probably pay Grade 6/7, a high level minor civil servant.
Other Parts in the Series:
2. Mycroft, Himself and Irene