The moral haze: how civil servants can maintain legitimacy in an era of populism

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July 11, 2023

A wave of populist governments around the world have placed civil and public service ethics in the spotlight like never before. Presidents and prime ministers calling for actions that break international law or which breach professional codes of conduct place public servants – and the institutions they are part of – in a position where they face difficult questions about whether to work with the government or to leave their role.

Such tumult also impacts the view of the populations that civil servants are meant to represent – and be accountable to. Opposition to government policies can lead to accusations of undermining the ‘will of the people’, while those opposed to the populist policies demanding that civil servants stand up to their political masters.

This webinar brought together public servants from around the world to discuss how public and civil servants should cope with these situations.

Join this webinar to find out:

  • How civil servants should balance demands from ministers with their professional ethics
  • How public and civil service structures can maintain integrity under political attack – and how to be transparent about their role
  • How civil servants should raise concerns over honesty, objectively, and impartiality of government requests.


Dr Claire Gilbert, Director, Westminster Abbey Institute

Claire is founding Director of Westminster Abbey Institute and a public moral philosopher and author, with degrees in theology, moral philosophy and ecological ethics.  As well as giving lectures, she runs the Institute’s Fellows’ Programme for public servants and private seminars for Government Departments to explore the moral dilemmas they face.  She has edited and contributed to the Institute’s books including The Moral Heart of Public Service (2017), The Power of Politicians (2018), which won a Parliamentary Book Award, The Power of Civil Servants (2018) Integrity in Public Life (2019) and Letters from Lockdown (2020).  Claire has published numerous articles and books on public ethics, including The Ethics of Medical Research on Humans (2001), Sharing God’s Planet (2005) and a personal account of her diagnosis of and treatment for blood cancer, Miles to Go Before I Sleep (2021).  She was formerly environmental and medical ethics adviser to the Church of England, and a lay Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral where she co-founded St Paul’s Institute for ethics.  In 2009 she founded The Ethics Academy, an educational charity teaching ethics through storytelling.  She is a Visiting Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge. 

Angela Glen, Senior Investigating Officer, Ethical Standards Commissioner, Scotland

Angela has a Master of Laws (LL.M) from the University of Cambridge where she specialised in public international law. She went on to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Law from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is an alumna of Newnham College and a member of the Law Society of Hong Kong.

Angela has worked in the legal profession since 2014. She was called to the Hong Kong bar in January 2017 after completing her traineeship with Hogan Lovells International LLP, where she qualified into the litigation team which covered international regulatory investigations. Her career has included experience in the public and private sectors as an investigator, advisor and litigator on matters relating to human rights, anti-corruption, bribery and fraud.

She first joined the Ethical Standards Commissioner in October 2019 as an Investigating Officer. She was promoted to the position of Senior Investigating Officer in November 2020.  Angela co-supervises the Investigations Team in assessing complaints, conducting investigations and reporting on investigation outcomes, including supporting the Commissioner in related matters.

Michael Wernick, Jarislowsky chair of public sector management at the University of Ottawa, and former Cabinet Secretary in the Canadian government

Michael Wernick’s distinguished 38-year career as one of the key leaders of Canada’s world-class federal public service culminated in serving from 2016 to 2019 as the 23rd clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to Cabinet. With 28 years as an executive in the federal public service, including 17 years in the community of deputy ministers, and three as clerk, Wernick is one of Canada’s most experienced and influential public sector leaders. He appeared frequently at parliamentary committees, participated in dozens of intergovernmental and international meetings, and spoke at many conferences. Wernick worked closely with three prime ministers and seven ministers and attended close to 300 meetings of Cabinet and its committees. He was the key public servant at the Privy Council Office during three changes of prime minister. In October 2021, UBC Press released Wernick’s book Governing Canada: A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics and Wernick undertook an extensive series of media interviews, podcasts and webinars to discuss this well-received practical handbook for Canada’s political leaders and those who aspire to understand them. In his role as Jarislowsky Chair at the University of Ottawa and his role at MNP, Wernick now provides advisory services and mentorship to emerging leaders and to new generations of students.

Webinar chair: Richard Johnstone, Executive Editor, Global Government Forum

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.