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Yes Minister Yes Prime Minister

'What's an official reply?' I wanted to know. 'It just says,' Bernard explained, '"the Minister has asked me to thank you for your letter." Then we reply. Something like: "The matter is under consideration." Or even, if we feel so inclined, "under active consideration!"' 'What's the difference between "under consideration" and "under active consideration"?' I asked. '"Under consideration" means we've lost the file. "Under active consideration" means we're trying to find it!' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 33)

Sir Humphrey tried a new tack. 'We have not done the paperwork.' I ignored this rubbish. Paperwork is the religion of the Civil Service. I can just imagine Sir Humphrey Appleby on his deathbed, surrounded by wills and insurance claim forms, looking up and saying, 'I cannot go yet, God, I haven't done the paperwork.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 42)

'The public,' said Sir Humphrey, 'do not know anything about wasting public money. We are the experts.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 57)

... Humphrey's system for stalling. According to Tom, it's in five stages. I made a note during our conversation, for future reference. Stage One: Humphrey will say that the administration is in its early months and there's an awful lot of other things to get on with. Stage Two: If I persist past Stage One, he'll say that he quite appreciates the intention, something certainly ought to be done -- but is this the right way to achieve it? Stage Three: If I'm still undeterred he will shift his ground from how I do it to when I do it, i.e. 'Minister, this is not the time, for all sorts of reasons.' Stage Four: Lots of Ministers settle for Stage Three according to Tom. But if not, he will then say that the policy has run into difficulties -- technical, political and/or legal. (Legal difficulties are best because they can be made totally incomprehensible and can go on for ever.) Stage Five: Finally, because the first four stages have taken up to three years, the last stage is to say that 'we're getting rather near to the run-up to the next general election -- so we can't be sure of getting the policy through'. ... He also warned me of the 'Three Varieties of Civil Service Silence', which would be Humphrey's last resort if completely cornered: 1 The silence when they do not want to tell you the facts: Discreet Silence. 2 The silence when they do not intend to take any action: Stubborn Silence. 3 The silence when you catch them out and they haven't a leg to stand on. They imply that they could vindicate themselves completely if only they were free to tell all, but they are too honourable to do so: Courageous Silence. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 93-4)

... Opposition aren't really the opposition. They are just called the Opposition. But, in fact, they are the opposition in exile. The Civil Service are the opposition in residence. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 94)

In fact, paradoxically, government is more open when it is less open. Open government is rather like the live theatre: the audience gets a performance. And it gives a response. But, like the theatre, in order to have something to show openly there must first be much hidden activity. And all sorts of things have to be cut or altered in rehearsals, and not shown to the public until you have got them right. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 103)

... a phased reduction of about a hundred thousand people is 'not in the public interest'. Translation: it is in the public interest but it is not in the interest of the Civil Service. 'Public opinion is not yet ready for such a step,' it says. Translation: Public opinion is ready but the Civil Service is not! Then it goes on: 'However, this is an urgent problem and we therefore propose setting up a Royal Commission.' Translation: This problem is a bloody nuisance, but we hope that by the time a Royal Commission reports, four years from now, everyone will have forgotten about it or we can find someone else to blame. [Hacker was beginning to understand Civil Service code language. Other examples are: 'I think we have to be very careful.' Translation: We are not going to do this. 'Have you thought through all the implications?' Translation: You are not going to do this. 'It is a slightly puzzling decision.' Translation: Idiotic! 'Not entirely straightforward.' Translation: Criminal. 'With the greatest possible respect, Minister ...' Translation: Minister, that is the silliest idea I've ever heard -- Ed.] (The Complete Yes Minister, p.106)

'Humphrey, in your evidence to the Think-Tank, are you going to support my view that the Civil Service is overmanned and feather-bedded or not? Yes or no! Straight answer!' Could I have put this question any more plainly? I don't think so. This was the reply: 'Minister, if I am pressed for a straight answer I shall say that, as far as we can see, looking at it by and large, taking one thing with another, in terms of the average of departments, then in the last analysis it is probably true to say that, at the end of the day, you would find, in general terms that, not to put too fine a point on it, there really was not very much in it one way or the other.' While I was still reeling from this, he added, no doubt for further clarification, 'As far as one can see, at this stage.' (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 106-7)

'We've got to stop flopping about like wet hens. We've got to do something to save the Department from closure. Frank, get through to the Whip's office to mobilise the backbenchers and Central House, to stop this before it starts.' 'I'm awfully sorry to quibble again, Minister, but you can't actually stop things before they start,' intervened Bernard, the wet-hen-in-chief. He's really useless in a crisis. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 116-7)

Frank and I, unlike the civil servants, were still puzzled that such a proposal as the Europass could even be seriously under consideration by the FCO. We can both see clearly that it is wonderful ammunition for the anti-Europeans. I asked Humphrey if the Foreign Office doesn't realise how dampening this would be to the European ideal? 'I am sure they do, Minister,' he said. 'That's why they support it.' This was even more puzzling, since I'd always been under the impression that the FCO is pro-Europe. 'Is it or isn't it?' I asked Humphrey. 'Yes and no,' he replied of course, 'if you'll pardon the expression. The Foreign Office is pro-Europe because it is really anti-Europe. In fact the Civil Service was united in its desire to make sure the Common Market didn't work. That's why we went into it.' This sounded like a riddle to me. I asked him to explain further. And basically, his argument was as follows: Britain has had the same foreign policy objective for at least the last five hundred years -- to create a disunited Europe. In that cause we have fought with the Dutch against the Spanish, with the Germans against the French, with the French and Italians against the Germans, and with the French against the Italians and Germans. [The Dutch rebellion against Philip II of Spain, the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War -- Ed.] In other words, divide and rule. And the Foreign Office can see no reason to change when it has worked so well until now. I was aware of all this, naturally, but I regarded it as ancient history. Humphrey thinks that it is, in fact, current policy. It was necessary for us to break the EEC, he explained, so we had to get inside. We had previously tried to break it up from the outside, but that didn't work. [A reference to our futile and short-lived involvement in EFTA, the European Free Trade Association, founded in 1960 and which the UK left in 1972 -- Ed.] Now that we're in, we are able to make a complete pig's breakfast out of it. We have now set the Germans against the French, the French against the Italians, the Italians against the Dutch... and the Foreign Office is terribly happy. It's just like old times. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 118-9)

'The awards committee meets in six weeks,' said Martin, 'and so obviously the PM doesn't want to rock the boat until it's in the bag.' I think I caught Bernard mumbling to himself that you don't put boats in bags... (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 121)

'How do you know?' I asked, simply out of curiosity. 'It said so in The Guardian,' said an intense young man in hobnail boots. Some reason for believing anything! You've only got to be in public life for about a week before you start to question if the newspapers are even giving you today's date with any accuracy! However, the young man thrust a copy of The Guardian at me. I looked at the story he circled in red. Actually, what The Guardian said was: 'The bodgers have dwelt in it for in it for generators.' I read it aloud, and laughed, but they appeared to have absolutely no sense of humour. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 125)

'Controversial' only means 'this will lose you votes'. 'Courageous' means 'this will lose you the election'. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 142)

I begin to see that senior civil servants in the open structure have, surprisingly enough, almost as brilliant minds as they themselves would claim to have. However, since there are virtually no goals or targets that can be achieved by a civil servant personally, his high IQ is usually devoted to the avoidance of error. Civil servants are posted to new jobs every three years or so. This is supposed to gain them all-round experience on the way to the top. In practice, it merely ensures that they can never have any personal interest in achieving the success of a policy: a policy of any complexity takes longer than three years to see through from start to finish, so a civil servant either has to leave it before its passage is completed or he arrives on the scene long after it started. This also means you can never pin the blame for failure on any individual: the man in charge at the end will say it was started wrong, and the man in charge at the beginning will say it was finished wrong. ... Afterthought: considering that the avoidance of error is their main priority, it is surprising how many errors they make! (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 171-2)

The Doctrine of Ministerial Responsibility is a handy little device conceived by the Civil Service for dropping the Minister in it while enabling the mandarins to keep their noses clean. It means, in practice, that the Civil Service runs everything and takes all the decisions, but when something goes wrong then it's the Minister who takes the blame. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 177)

'If only you'd had we'd have a departmental enquiry,' he complained, 'then we could have made it last eighteen months, and finally said that it revealed a certain number of anomalies which have now been rectified but that there was no evidence of any intention to mislead. Something like that.' I allowed myself to be diverted for a moment. 'But there was an intention to mislead.' I pointed out. 'I never said there wasn't,' Sir Humphrey replied impatiently. 'I merely said there was no evidence of it.' I think I was looking blank. He explained. 'The job of a professionally conducted internal enquiry is to unearth a great mass of no evidence. If you say there was no intention, you can be proved wrong. But if you say the enquiry found no evidence of an intention, you can't be proved wrong.' (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 178-9)

I informed Bernard that most of our journalists are so amateur that they would have grave difficulty in finding out that today is Thursday. 'It's actually Wednesday, Minister,' he said. I pointed to the door. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 182)

Whitehall is the most secretive square mile in the world. The great emphasis on avoidance of error (which is what the Civil Service is really about, since that is their only real incentive) also means that avoidance of publication is equally necessary. As Sir Arnold is reported to have said some months ago, 'If no one knows what you're doing, then no one knows that you're doing wrong.' And so the way information is provided -- or withheld -- is the key to running the government smoothly. This concern with the avoidance of error leads inexorably to the need to commit everything to paper -- civil servants copy everything, and send copies to all their colleagues. (This is also because 'chaps don't like to leave other chaps out', as Bernard once explained to me.) The Treasury was rather more competent before the invention of Xerox than it is now, because its officials had so much less to read (and therefore less to confuse them). The civil servants' hunger for paper is insatiable. They want all possible information sent to them, and they send all possible information to their colleagues. It amazes me that they find the time to do anything other than catch up with other people's paperwork. If indeed they do. It is also astonishing that so little of this vast mass of typescript ever becomes public knowledge -- a very real tribute to Whitehall's talent for secrecy. For it is axiomatic with civil servants that information should only be revealed to their political 'masters' when absolutely necessary, and to the public when absolutely unavoidable. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 201-2)

They asked her if the earth moved when she went to bed with me. 'No,' she'd replied, 'not even the bed moves.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 212)

... the ship of state is the only type of ship that leaks from the top. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 213)

So I asked him point blank if he would put my policy into practice. He made me his usual offer. I know it off by heart now. A recommendation that we set up an interdepartmental committee with fairly broad terms of reference so that at the end of the day we would be in a position to think through all the implications and take a decision based on long-term considerations rather than rush prematurely into precipitate and possibly ill-conceived action that might well have unforeseen repercussions. [In other words: No! -- Ed.] (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 234)

... I decided to open up Pandora's box, let the cat out of the bag and get the ball rolling. [Hacker never really learned to conquer his mixed metaphor problem -- Ed.]

'There is a well-established government procedure for suppressing -- that is, not publishing -- unwanted reports.' This was news to me. I asked how it was done. 'You discredit them,' he explained simply. How? I made notes as he spoke. ... Stage one: The public interest 1) You hint at security considerations. 2) You point out that the report could be used to put unwelcome pressure on government because it might be misinterpreted. [Of course, anything might be misinterpreted. The Sermon on the Mount might be misinterpreted. Indeed, Sir Humphrey Appleby would almost certainly have argued that, had the Sermon on the Mount been a government report, it should certainly not have been published on the grounds that it was a thoroughly irresponsible document: the sub-paragraph suggesting that the meek will inherit the earth could, for instance, do irreparable damage to the defence budget -- Ed.] 3) You then say that it is better to wait for the results of a wider and more detailed survey over a longer time-scale. 4) If there is no such survey being carried out, so much the better. You commission one, which gives you even more time to play with. Stage two: Discredit the evidence that you are not publishing This is, of course, much easier than discrediting evidence that you do publish. You do it indirectly, by press leaks. You say: (a) that it leaves important questions unanswered (b) that much of the evidence is inconclusive (c) that the figures are open to other interpretations (d) that certain findings are contradictory (e) that some of the main conclusions have been questioned Points (a) to (d) are bound to be true. In fact, all of these criticisms can be made of a report without even reading it. There are, for instance, always some questions unanswered -- such as the ones they haven't asked. As regards (e), if some of the main conclusions have not been questioned, question them! Then they have. Stage three: Undermine the recommendations This is easily done, with an assortment of government phrases: (a) 'not really a basis for long-term decisions...' (b) 'not sufficient information on which to base a valid assessment...' (c) 'no reason for any fundamental rethink of existing policy...' (d) 'broadly speaking, it endorses current practice...' These phrases give comfort to people who have not read the report and who don't want change -- i.e. almost everybody. Stage four: If stage three still leaves doubts, then Discredit The Man Who Produced the Report This must be done OFF THE RECORD. You explain that: (a) he is harbouring a grudge against the government (b) he is a publicity seeker (c) he's trying to get his knighthood (d) he is trying to get his chair (e) he is trying to get his Vice-Chancellorship (f) he used to be a consultant to a multinational company or (g) he wants to be a consultant to a multinational company (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 257-9)

Humphrey then tried to tell me that I was putting party before country. That hoary old clich?again. I told him to find a new one. Bernard said that a new clich?could perhaps be said to be a contradiction in terms. Thank you, Bernard, for all your help! (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 263)

I asked him how it felt, going from the Commons to the Lords. 'It's like being moved from the animals to the vegetables,' he replied. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 267)

'Is this rumour true?' 'Yes.' A straight answer! I was somewhat taken aback. 'How do you know,' I asked, 'if you don't move in such exalted circles?' 'I mean,' he explained, 'it is true that it is rumoured.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 277)

Power goes with permanence Impermanence is impotence Rotation is castration (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 280)

I wondered, aloud, if we could really stab our partners in the back, and spit in their faces. Bernard intervened. 'You can't stab anyone in the back while you spit in their face.' I suppose he was trying to be helpful. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 294-5)

Most civil servants can't write speeches. But they can dig up a plum for me (occasionally) and, without fail, they should warn me of any possible banana skins. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 305)

... a good speech isn't one where we can prove that we're telling the truth -- it's one where nobody else can prove we're lying. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 322)

'Why,' I wondered aloud, 'are Ministers never allowed to go anywhere without their briefs?' 'It's in case they get caught with their trousers down,' Bernard replied rather wittily. At least, I think it was wit, but it might just have been a lucky chance. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 326)

...the Civil Service's five standard excuses... I have called each excuse by the name of a famous example of its use. 1 The Anthony Blunt excuse There is a perfectly satisfactory explanation for everything, but security prevents its disclosure 2 The Comprehensive Schools excuse It's only gone wrong because of heavy cuts in staff and budget which have stretched supervisory resources beyond the limit 3 The Concorde excuse It was a worthwhile experiment now abandoned, but not before it provided much valuable data and considerable employment 4 The Munich Agreement excuse It occurred before important facts were known, and cannot happen again (The important facts in question were that Hitler wanted to conquer Europe. This was actually known; but not to the Foreign Office, of course) 5 The Charge of the Light Brigade excuse It was an unfortunate lapse by an individual which has now been dealt with under internal disciplinary procedures According to Sir Humphrey, these excuses have covered everything so far. Even wars. Small wars, anyway. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 338)

As I looked at her face, I could see an air of disappointment written across it. [In view of the insight that Hacker's frequently mixed metaphors give us into the clouded state of his mind, we have retained them unless clarity is threatened -- Ed.] (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 350)

...I asked her how many women are there at the top of the Civil Service. She had an immediate answer to that question. 'None of the Permanent Secretaries. Four out of one hundred and fifty odd Deputy Secretaries.' I wondered silently if there are any that aren't odd. Presumably not, not by the time they become Deputy Secretaries. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 352)

'This needs a sledgehammer,' I declared. 'We must cut through the red tape.' Bloody Bernard piped up again. 'You can't cut tape with a sledgehammer, it would just...' and then he made a sort of squashing gesture. I squashed him with a look. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 356)

...the three articles of Civil Service faith: it takes longer to do things quickly, it's more expensive to do things cheaply, and it's more democratic to do things secretly. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 357)

'Civil servants are grown like oak trees, not mustard and cress. They bloom and ripen with the seasons.' I'd never heard such pretentious crap. But he was in full flow. 'They mature like...' 'Like you?' I interrupted facetiously. 'I was going to say,' he replied tartly, 'that they mature like an old port.' 'Grimsby, perhaps?' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 357)

'Rubbish. Napoleon ruled Europe in his thirties. Alexander the Great conquered the world in his twenties.' 'They would have made very poor Deputy Secretaries,' remarked Sir Humphrey contemptuously. 'At least they didn't wait their turn,' I pointed out. 'And look what happened to them,' Sir Humphrey clearly thought he'd won our little debate. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 359)

Arnold's feelings are the same as mine then it comes to women. But like me -- and unlike the Minister -- he sees quite clearly that they are different from us. In the following ways:-- 1. Bad for teamwork: they put strains on a team, by reacting differently from us. 2. Too emotional: they are not rational like us. 3. Can't be Reprimanded: they either get into a frightful bate or start blubbing. 4. Can be Reprimanded: some of them can be, but are frightfully hard and butch and not in the least bit attractive. 5. Prejudices: they are full of them. 6. Silly Generalisations: they make them. 7. Stereotypes: they think in them. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 361)

Quite honestly, Minister, I want a job where I don't spend endless hours circulating information that isn't relevant about subjects that don't matter to people who aren't interested. I want a job where there is achievement rather than mere activity. I'm tired of pushing paper. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 371)

'Minister, I have warned you before about the dangers of talking to people in the Department. I implore you to stay out of the minefield of local government. It is a political graveyard.' Bernard intervened. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, Bernard abominates a mixed metaphor. 'Actually, Sir Humphrey,' he explained confidentially, 'you can't have a graveyard in a minefield because all the corpses would...' and he made a vague explosion gesture. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 384)

Financial Times Thursday May 19: BES bribery allegation: IT IS ALLEGED in Le Monde that the recent British Electronic systems contract with Qumran was won by bribery. It is said in Paris that this is the latest in a long line of scandals, of which Lockheed and Northrop ... are two of the most famous examples, revealing a hideous web of corruption woven by Western industrial countries and third world governments that forms a blot on our modern civilisation. ... I showed it to Bernard. A lot of use that was! 'Webs do not form blots, Minister,' was his comment. 'What?' I said. 'Spiders don't have ink, you see. Only cuttlefish.' Sometimes I think that Bernard is completely off his head. Spiders don't have cuttlefish. I couldn't see what he meant at all. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 410)

Bernard gave me a list of informal guidelines for making these payments, a list that is in highly confidential circulation among top multinational companies. 1 Below ₤100,000 Retainers Personal donations Special discounts Miscellaneous outgoings 2 ₤100,000 to ₤500,000 Managerial surcharge Operating costs Ex-gratia payments Agents' fees Political contributions Extra-contractual payments 3 ₤500,000 + Introduction fees Commission fees Managements' expenses Administrative overheads Advance against profit sharing (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 413)

I told him he was an appalling cynic. He took that as a compliment, remarking that a cynic is only a term used by an idealist to describe a realist. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 414)

'Minister, this hideous appointment has been hurtling round Whitehall for the last three weeks like a grenade with the pin taken out.' ... 'If I can pull it off,' I said carefully, 'it will be a feather in my cap.' 'If you pull it off,' said Bernard, 'it won't be in your cap any more.' I scowled at him, and he went pink and studied his shoes. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 429-30)

If you have to go for a politician's jugular, go for his constituency. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 436)

...two basic rules of government: Never look into anything you don't have to. And never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 453)

Dear Prime Minister, September 12th My attention has been drawn on a personal basis to information which suggests the possibility of certain irregularities under Section 1 of the Import-Export and Custom powers (Defence) Act 1939 (c). Prima facie evidence suggests that there could be a case for further investigation to establish whether or not enquiries should be put in hand. Nevertheless it should be stressed that available information is limited and the relevant facts could be difficult to establish with any degree of certainty Yours sincerely, James Hacker (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 466)

'We want all responsibilities, so long as they mean extra staff and bigger budgets. It is the breadth of our responsibilities that makes us important -- makes you important, Minister. If you want to see vast buildings, huge staff and massive budgets. what do you conclude?' 'Bureaucracy,' I said. Apparently I'd missed the point. 'No, Minister, you conclude that at the summit there must be men of great stature and dignity who hold the world in their hands and tread the earth like princes.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 475)

'Arts subsidy,' I told him simply, 'is a middle-class rip-off. The middle classes, who run the country, award subsidies to their own pleasures.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 477)

I asked Bernard if he ever thought of going into politics. He shook his head. 'Why not?' 'Well, Minister, I once looked up politics in the Thesaurus.' 'What does it say?' '"Manipulation, intrigue, wire-pulling, evasion, rabble-rousing, graft..." I don't think I have the necessary qualities.' I told him not to underestimate himself. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 487)

I asked if a failure to complete returns is all that serious. ... 'If local authorities don't send us the statistics we ask for, then government figures will be nonsense. They'll be incomplete.' I pointed out that government figures are a nonsense anyway. No one denied it, but Bernard suggested that Sir Humphrey wanted to ensure that they are a complete nonsense. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 493)

Parkinson's Law of Social Work... It's well known that social problems increase to occupy the total number of social workers available to deal with them. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 497)

'The identity of this official whose alleged responsibility for this hypothetical oversight has been the subject of recent speculation is not shrouded in quite such impenetrable obscurity as certain previous disclosures may have led you to assume, and, in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, the individual in question was, it may surprise you to learn, the one to whom your present interlocutor is in the habit of identifying by means of the perpendicular pronoun.' 'I beg your pardon?' I said. There was an anguished pause. 'It was I,' he said. (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 511-2)

'This file contains the complete set of available papers except for: (a) a small number of secret documents (b) a few documents which are part of still active files (c) some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967 (d) some records which went astray in the move to London (e) other records which went astray when the War Office was incorporated into the Ministry of Defence (f) the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.' I read this excellent list. Then I looked in the file. There were no papers there at all! Completely empty. 'Is this how many are left? None?' 'Yes Minister.' (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 513)

...it is a custom more honoured in the breach than in the observance. (Yes Prime Minister I, p. 129)

Annie, like the press and the media, keeps harping on about 'control'. But the point about government is that no one has control. Lots of people have the power to stop something happening -- but almost nobody has the power to make anything happen. We have a system of government with the engine of a lawn-mower and the brakes of a Rolls-Royce. (Yes Prime Minister I, p. 140)

'Oh yes, Prime Minister.' By yes he meant no. 'Indeed it is, beyond question, at the appropriate juncture, in due course, in the fullness of time.' (Yes Prime Minister I, p. 190)

Hasn't he noticed that collective responsibility has fallen out of fashion? Collective responsibility means that when we do something popular they all leak the fact that it was their idea, and when we do something unpopular they leak the fact that they were against it. This country is governed by the principle of collective irresponsibility. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 31)

'What I want is to show the public that there are no divisions in the Cabinet.' 'But there are divisions,' said Bernard. 'I don't want to multiply them,' I explained. 'Prime Minister, if you multiply divisions you get back to where you started.' I couldn't see what he was driving at. Undeterred, he continued to explain. 'If you divide four by two you get two and then if you multiply it you get back to four again. Unless, of course, you multiply different divisions, in which case...' 'Thank you, Bernard,' I said firmly. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 37)

'I'm sorry, Prime Minister, but I really have to have a statement for the press. They're all waiting. And there are four requests for TV interviews and eleven for radio.' 'Bloody marvellous!' I was decidedly bitter. 'All last week I wanted to go on the air and talk about my successes in achieving détente with the Soviets, and they didn't want to know. Now this happens and they charge in like a herd of vultures.' 'Not heard, Prime Minister,' said Bernard inexplicably. I told him I'd speak louder. Then I realised I'd misunderstood. 'Herd,' he said, 'not heard. Vultures, I mean, they don't herd, they flock. And they don't charge, they...' 'Yes? They what?' I turned to him, absolutely furious, and waited. More silence. 'Well, what do they do, Bernard?' He could see that he was dicing with death. 'They...' he faltered. And he flapped his arms a bit. 'Nothing,' he said, and returned to staring at his shoes again. I have had enough of Bernard's pedantry! (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 52)

It's always a good idea to have an ex-journalist as Press Secretary -- poacher turned gamekeeper. (Yes Prime Minister II, pp. 53-4)

We had discussed our rebuttal of the Daily Post story for long enough. 'Now,' I said, moving right along, 'about nailing that leak.' 'I'm sorry to be pedantic, Prime Minister, but if you nail a leak you make another leak.' (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 55)

Conscious are for politicians. We are humble functionaries whose duty is to implement the commands of our democratically elected representatives. How could we be doing anything wrong if it has been commanded by those who represent the people? B. W. does not accept that view. 'No man is an island,' he said. I agreed wholeheartedly. 'And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for them, Bernard.' Apprehensively, he asked for my suggestions, and their rationale. I gave him these thoughts to ponder: 1. Minutes do not record everything that was said at a meeting. 2. People frequently change their minds during a meeting. 3. Minutes, by virtue of the selection process, can never be a true and complete record. 4. Therefore, what is said at a meeting merely constitutes the choice of ingredients for the minutes. 5. The secretary's task is to choose, from a jungle of ill-digested ideas, a version that represents the Prime Minister's views as he would, on reflection, have liked them to emerge. Later today Bernard returned to my office, still confused. He had considered all I had said and likened the question of ingredients to cooking. A dangerous analogy. It is better not to use the verb 'cook' in connection with either books or minutes. Once again this raised the question of truth (whatever that may be) and Bernard's erroneous belief that minutes must in some way constitute a true record. Patiently, I approached the matter from an alternative point of view. I explained the following points as clearly as I could: 1. The purpose of minutes is not to record events. 2. The purpose is to protect people. 3. You do not take notes if the Prime Minister says something he did not mean to say, especially if this contradicts what he has said publicly on an issue. 4. In short, minutes are constructive. They are to improve what is said, to be tactful, to put in a better order. 5. There is no moral problem. The secretary is the Prime Minister's servant. In short, the minute is simply a note for the records and a statement of action (if any) that was agreed upon. (Yes Prime Minister II, pp. 59-60)

...eight ways to deal with difficult questions: 1. Attack the Question. 'That's a very silly question, how can you justify the use of the words, "above the law"?' 2. Attack the Questioner. 'How many years have you spent in government?' 3. Compliment the Question. 'That's a very good question. I'd like to thank you for asking it. Let me reply by asking you one.' 4. Unloading the Question. Most questions are loaded. They are full of assumptions such as 'A lot of people have said that you consider yourself above the law'. There are two possible replied to such loaded questions: a) 'Name ten.' b) 'Surely in a nation of 56 million people you can find a few people who will say anything, no matter how irrelevant, misguided, or ill-informed.' 5. Make It All Appear An Act. This approach only works for live TV interviews: 'You know, I've come to the conclusion that I don't agree with what you suggested I should answer when you asked me that question downstairs before the programme began. The real answer is...' 6. Use The Time Factor. Most interviews are short of time, especially live 'on air' interviews. Reply: 'That's a very interesting question, and there are nine points that I should like to make in answer to it.' The Interviewer will say: 'Perhaps you could make just two of them, briefly.' You say: 'No, it's far too important a question to answer superficially, and if I can't answer it properly I'd rather not trivialise it.' 7. Invoke Security. 'There's a very full answer to that question, but it involves matters that are being discussed in confidence. I'm sure you wouldn't want me to break a confidence. So I'm afraid I can't answer for another week or two.' 8. Take Refuge In a Long Pointless Narrative. If you can ramble on for long enough, no one will remember the question and therefore no one can tell if you answered it or not. ...I summed it up...: if you have nothing to say, say nothing. But better, have something to say and say it, no matter what they ask. Pay no attention to the question, make your own statement. If they ask you the same question again, you just say, 'That's not the question' or 'I think the more important question is this:' Then you make another statement of your own. Easy-peasy. (Yes Prime Minister II, pp. 67-8)

'Not in my interest to punish people for undermining the whole fabric of government?' I enquired icily. Bernard said: 'Um, you can't undermine a fabric, Prime Minister, because fabric hangs down so if you go underneath you...' He tailed off abruptly as I stared him down. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 77)

The Times is read by the people who run the country. The Daily Mirror is read by the people who think they run the country. The Guardian is read by the people who think they ought to run the country. The Morning Star is read by the people who think the country ought to be run by another country. The Independent is read by people who don't know who runs the country but are sure they're doing it wrong. The Daily Mail is read by the wives of people who run the country. The Financial Times is read by the people who own the country. The Daily Express is read by the people who think the country ought to be run as it used to be run. The Daily Telegraph is read by the people who still think it is their country. And the Sun's readers don't care who runs the country providing she has big tits. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 107)

The basic rule of the City was that if you are incompetent you have to be honest, and if you are crooked you have to be clever. The reasoning is that, if you are honest, the chaps will rally round and help you if you make a pig's breakfast out of your business dealings. Conversely, if you are crooked, no one will ask questions so long as you are making substantial profits. The ideal City firm was both honest and clever, although these were in short supply. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 109)

'...If you want to suggest that someone is perhaps not the ideal choice [i.e. rubbish them -- Ed.], the first stage is to express absolute support.' The reason,...is that you must never be on the record saying that somebody is no good. You must be seen as their friend. After all,...it is necessary to get behind someone before you can stab them in the back. ...He spelled it out. 'Stage One: Express absolute support. 'Stage Two: List all his praiseworthy qualities, especially those that would make him unsuitable for the job. 'Stage Three: Continue to praise those qualities to the point where they become positively vices. 'Stage Four: Mention his bad points by defending and excusing them.' Stage Three is simply done,...by oversimplification. You label someone. If, for instance, someone is a good man he can seriously be damaged by calling him 'Mr Clean'. Strange, but true. Humphrey had heard that Jameson was a churchgoer, information which I was able to confirm. Indeed, I added, he had once been a lay preacher. Humphrey's face lit up. His joy was beautiful to behold. 'Splendid news! We can certainly use that against him.' I asked for an illustration. Sir Humphrey turned to me and spoke as if speaking to the Prime Minister. 'What a charming man. Hasn't an enemy in the world. But is he really up to dealing with some of the rogues in the City?' Ingenious. But I wasn't sure it would wash. For, as I explained to Sir Humphrey, Jameson was in reality a pretty tough customer. Humphrey remained blissfully unconcerned. 'In that case, we'll go on to Stage Four and say he's too tough. For instance, "it probably doesn't matter that he was a conscientious objector, no one has ever really questioned his patriotism". Or "I thought the criticisms of him for bankrupting his last company were not entirely fair". That sort of thing.' ...Never before had I grasped the lethal possibilities of praise. Humphrey explained that the same principle can be applied to the personal lives of those who cannot be smeared by praise in their professional lives. All you need to do is hint at something that cannot be easily disproved. And if it is disproved, you never said it anyway, you merely hinted. The best approach is to hint at a hidden scandal. For instance: 1. If not married -- Homosexuality. 2. If married -- Adultery, preferably with a lady who is beyond reproach, such as one of the royals or a television newsreader. 3. If happily married -- Puritanism or Alcoholism. Or undisclosed Psychiatric Treatment. The possibilities are most infinite. Careers can be brought to a juddering halt by generously referring to a chap as a great stimulator, a wonderful catalyst, a superb cook, an innovative chess player. As for oversimplification the stages are frightfully easy: 1. Take someone's idea -- say, a chap who believes that education subsidies should be funnelled through the parents rather than through the Local Education Authority. 2. Simplify it to the point of absurdity -- 'He believes in a complete free for all'. 3. Admit there was some truth in it once. 'But we've all realised that there is a less extreme way of solving the problem.' 4. Label him with the idea every time his name is mentioned. 'Ah yes, the educational vouchers man.' (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 115-6)

'Irregularity' means there's been a crime but you can't prove it. 'Malpractice' means there's a crime and you can prove it. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 124)

'It's easy to see how he became Chairman. He never has any original ideas, he speaks slowly, and because he doesn't understand anything he always agrees with whoever he's talking to. So obviously people think he's sound.' (Yes Prime Minister II, pp. 124-5) When Desmond arrived it was easy to see what made him such a success in the City -- tall, distinguished-looking, a full head of white hair, droopy Harold Macmillan eyelids with a moustache to match, casually elegant, the epitome of the English gentleman with all that implies -- amateurism, lack of commitment and zero intellectual curiosity. He arranged his impeccable self in my chintz floral armchair and stared at me with his air of baffled amusement. Most people believed that the look of amusement was an act -- I knew that the bafflement was as well. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 126)

...the Politicians' Syllogism: Step One: We must do something. Step Two: This is something. Step Three: Therefore we must do this. Logically, this akin to other equally famous syllogisms, such as: Step One: All dogs have four legs. Step Two: My cat has four legs. Step Three: Therefore my dog is a cat. The Politicians' Syllogism has been responsible for many of the disasters that befell the United Kingdom in the twentieth century, including the Munich Agreement and the Suez Adventure. (Yes Prime Minister II, pp. 130-1)

'I'll have to go,' I decided. 'I'll keep a stiff upper lip. Grin and bear it.' Bernard said, 'You can't actually grin with a stiff upper lip because...' And he demonstrated. 'You see, stiff lips won't stretch horizontally...' (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 189)

...I still couldn't see why a theatre should insult me and then expect me to give it more money. But Humphrey explained that this is what artists always do. 'Undignified, isn't it? They advance towards the government on their knees, shaking their fists.' 'And beating me over the head with a begging bowl.' 'Um, Prime Minister,' said Bernard, 'they can't beat you over the head if they're on their knees. Not unless you're on your knees too, or unless they've got very long arms.' (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 191)

'The point is, this situation is now a real hot potato. If I don't do something it could become a banana skin.' Bernard intervened. 'Excuse me, Prime Minister, a hot potato can't become a banana skin. If you don't do anything a hot potato will merely becomes a cold potato.' I wonder if Bernard ever realises how close to death he sometimes comes. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 206)

...he remarked peevishly that hardly anyone knew any Latin any more either. 'Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis,' replied Sir Humphrey appropriately. There was a slight pause as Hacker stared vacantly at him. Finally he was obliged to humiliate himself again by asking him for a translation. 'The times change and we change with the times,' I said. 'Precisely,' said the Prime Minister, as if the quotation proved his point -- whereas any fool could see it helped Sir Humphrey's side of the argument. Humphrey provocatively continued to speak in Latin. 'Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses,' he said. Hacker was suspicious. He asked what that meant. Sir Humphrey obliged. 'If you'd kept you mouth shut we might have thought you were clever.' Hacker looked apoplectic. I thought he was going to suffer a coronary then and there. Sir Humphrey hastily explained. 'Not you, Prime Minister. That's the translation.' Hacker then berated Sir Humphrey for denying the value of an academic education, whereupon Sir Humphrey replied -- rather too insultingly in my view -- that he could see no use for it if he personally couldn't even use it in conversation with the Prime Minister of Great Britain. (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 220)

'Humphrey,' I said, 'do you think I could? Actually grasp the nettle and take the bull by the horns?' Bernard spoke for the first time. 'Prime Minister, you can't take the bull by the horns if you're grasping the nettle.' I could hardly believe that this was Bernard's sole contribution to a discussion of such importance. I just sat there and goggled at him. He must have thought I didn't understand him, for he began to explain himself: 'I mean, if you grasped the nettle with one hand, you could take the bull by one horn with the other hand, but not by both horns because your hand wouldn't be big enough, and if you took a bull by only one horn it would be rather dangerous because...' (Yes Prime Minister II, pp. 221-2)

'The DES would block it,' I reminded her. And then she said something so revolutionary, so riveting and so ruthless that it shook me rigid. [Hacker often displayed a talent, probably subconscious, for alliteration when excited -- Ed.] (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 228)

'So you think they'll block it?' 'I mean,' he said, tight-lipped and angry, 'that they will give it the most serious and urgent consideration, but will insist on a thorough and rigorous examination of all the proposals, allied to a detailed feasibility study and budget analysis before producing a consultative document for consideration by all interested bodies and seeking comments and recommendations to be incorporated in a brief for a series of working parties who will produce individual studies that will form the background for a more wide-ranging document considering whether or not the proposal should be taken forward to the next stage.' He meant they'd block it! (Yes Prime Minister II, p. 231)

Sam Mok
moksheungming@yahoo.com
2005.7.19

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