Sunday, February 24, 2008

Yes Minister quotes


"If people don't know what you're doing, they don't know what you're doing wrong."

"It is sometimes difficult to explain to Ministers that open government can sometimes mean informing their Cabinet colleagues as well as their friends in Fleet Street."

"Minister's language: 'We have decided to be more flexible in our application of this principle' means 'We are dropping this policy but we don't want to admit it publicly'. "


"A career in politics is no preparation for government."

"'The matter is under consideration' means we have lost the file. 'The matter is under active consideration' means we are trying to find the file."


"Asking a town hall to slim down its staff is like asking an alcoholic to blow up a distillery."

"Politicians must be allowed to panic. They need activity. It is their substitute for achievement."

"The argument that we must do everything a Minister demands because he has been 'democratically chosen' does not stand up to close inspection. MPs are not chosen by 'the people' - they are chosen by their local constituency parties: thirty-five men in grubby raincoats or thirty-five women in silly hats. The further 'selection' process is equally a nonsense: there are only 630 MPs and a party with just over 300 MPs forms a government and of these 300, 100 are too old and too silly to be ministers and 100 too young and too callow. Therefore there are about 100 MPs to fill 100 government posts. Effectively no choice at all."


"Stalling Cabinet Ministers: the 5-stage formula
1. The administration is in its early months and there's an awful lot to do at once.
2. Something ought to be done but is this the right way to achieve it?
3. The idea is good but the time is not ripe.
4. The proposal has run into technical, logistic and legal difficulties which are being sorted out.
5. Never refer to the matter or reply to the Minister's notes. By the time he taxes you with it face to face you should be able to say it looks unlikely if anything can be done until after the election."

"The Opposition aren't really the opposition. They are only the Government in exile. The Civil Service are the opposition in residence. "


"Civil Service language: 'Sometimes one is forced to consider the possibility that affairs are being conducted in a manner which, all things being considered and making all possible allowances is, not to put too fine a point on it, perhaps not entirely straightforward.
Translation: 'You are lying'."

"The Prime Minister doesn't want the truth, he wants something he can tell Parliament."


"Almost anything can be attacked as a failure, but almost anything can be defended as not a significant failure. Politicians do no appreciate the significance of 'significant'. "

"If Civil Servants did not fight for the budgets of their departments they could end up with departments so small that even the Ministers could run them."


"The Official Secrets Act is not to protect secrets, it is to protect officials."

"Conjurors offer the audience any card in the pack and always get them to take the one they want. This is the way we in the Civil Service get Ministers to take decisions."

"It is my job to protect the Prime Minister from the great tide of irrelevant information that beats against the walls of 10 Downing Street every day."


"People do not want to know how welfare money has actually been spent. Nobody asks the priest what happen to the ritual offering after the ceremony."

"Why should we close a hospital because it has no patients? We don't disband the Army just because there isn't a war."


"'This would create a dangerous precedent'. Translation: 'If we do the right thing now, we might have to do the right thing again next time'."

"Avoiding precedents does not mean nothing should ever be done. It only means that nothing should ever be done for the first time."

"No one really understands the true nature of fawning servility until he sees an academic who has glimpsed the prospect of money or personal publicity."

"The surprising things about academics is not that they have their price, but how low that price is."


"Ministers have an enviable intellectual suppleness and moral maneuverability. Translation: You can't trust them further than you can throw them."


"It is only totalitarian governments that suppress facts. In this country we simply take a democratic decision not to publish them."

"To suppress an internal government report, rewrite it as official advice to the Minister. Then it is against the rules to publish it, so you can leak the bits you want to friendly journalists."

"Going from Commons to the Lords is like being moved the animals to the vegetables."


"If you are not happy with Minister's decision there is no need to argue him out of it. Accept it warmly, and then suggested he leaves it to you to work out the details."


"A good political speech is not one in which you can prove that the man is telling the truth; it is one where no one else can prove he is lying."

"Politicians speeches are not written for the audience to which they are delivered. Delivering the speech is merely the formality that has to be gone through in order to get the press release into the newspapers."

"Ministers do not believe they exist unless they are reading about themselves in the newspapers."

"It is our job to tell Select Committees the truth and nothing but the truth. But it would be profoundly inappropriate and grossly irresponsible to tell them the whole truth."


"Any statement in a politician's memoirs can represent one of six different levels of reality:
a. What happened.
b. What he believed happened.
c. What he would have liked to have happened.
d. What he wants to believe happened.
e. What he wants other people to believe happened.
f. What he wants other people to believe he believed happened."

"Civil Servants need great flexibility. They have to be constantly prepared to change horses in mid stream, as politicians change what they are pleased to call their minds."

"Too much Civil Service work consists of circulating information that isn't relevant about subjects that don't matter to people who aren't interested."


"Terms for describing bribes when drawing up contracts:
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"

"Politicians' language:
- Special development areas = marginal constituencies.
- Assistance to areas of economic hardship = pouring money into marginal constituencies.
- Descentralisation of government = moving government offices into marginal constituencies."


"Reorganizing the Civil Service is like drawing a knife through a bowl of marbles."

"It is axiomatic in government that hornets' nests should be left unstirred, cans of worms should remain unopened, and cats should be left firmly in bags and not set among the pigeons. Ministers should also leave boats unrocked, nettles ungrasped, refrain from taking bulls by the horns, and resolutely turn their backs to the music."

"A minister who finds out that the government is doing something illegal does not have to tell the Prime Minister. Just because he's caught something nasty, he doesn't have to go round breathing over everyone."

"Government is about principles. And the principle is, never act on principle."

"A Politician's dilemma. He must obviously follow his conscience, but he must also know where he's going. So he can't follow his conscience, because it may not be going the same way that he is."


"Administration is about means, not ends. The only ends in administration are loose ends."

"The three most unreliable things in public life: Political Memoirs, Official Denials and Manifesto Promises."

"It is possible to remove everything of significance from a file released under the 30-year rule by saying that it is complete 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 Department was reorganized.
f. The normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel of breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments."


"To watch a Cabinet Minister in action is to watch the endless subordination of important long-term issues to the demands of urgent trivia."

"As long as there is anything to be gained by saying nothing, it is always better to say nothing than anything."

"The first rule of politics: never believe anything until it's been officially denied."

"'The Government's position' means 'the best explanation of past events that cannot be disproved by available facts'."

"If asked if he wants to be Prime Minister, the generally acceptable answer for a politician is that while he does not seek the office, he has pledged himself to the service of his country, and that should his colleagues persuade him that that is the best way he can serve, he might reluctantly have to accept the responsibility, whatever his personal wishes might be."

"Solved problems aren't news. Tell the press a story in two halves - the problem first and the solution later. Then they get a disaster story one day and triumph story the next."

"If any sentence in a television broadcast has more than twenty words, when it gets to the end most people have forgotten how it began. Including the person speaking it."

"Things don't happen just because Prime Ministers are keen on them. Neville Chamberlain was keen on peace."

"If a job's worth doing, it's worth delegating."

"If we cannot refute the arguments in a paper, we simply discredit the person who wrote it. This is called playing the man and not the ball."


"It is important to put political advisors in rooms as far away as possible from the Prime Minister. Influence diminishes with distance."


"When anybody says 'It's not the money, it's the principle' they mean it's the money."

"The Prime Minister is much more worried by discontent among back-benchers than among nurses and teachers. Nurses and teachers can't vote against him until the next election. Back-benchers can vote against him at 10 o'clock tonight."

"Wearing two hats is not difficult for those who are in two minds. Or have two faces."

"A Civil Service computer strike would bring government to a standstill if it were not for the fact that it is already."

"If you do not want Cabinet to spend too long discussing something, make it last on the agenda before lunch."

"Foreign policy is made in the Foreign Office. Therefore the Cabinet cannot pursue it's own foreign policy unilaterally. The country cannot have two foreign policies."

"There was nothing wrong with appeasement. All that World War Two achieved after six years was to leave Eastern Europe under a Communist dictatorship instead of a Fascist dictatorship. That's what comes of not listening to the Foreign Office."

"Britain should always be on the side of law and justice, so long as we don't allow it to affect our foreign policy."

"It was a good idea to partition countries like India and Cyprus and Palestine and Ireland as a part of their independence. It keeps them busy fighting each other so we don't' have to have a policy about them."

"Diplomacy is about surviving to the next century. Politics is about surviving until Friday afternoon."

"The public aren't interested in foreign affairs. All they want to know is who are the goodies and who are the baddies."

"Ministers are ignorant not because we do not give them the right answers but because they do not ask us the right questions."

"It is well known that in the Foreign Office an order from the Prime Minister becomes a request from the Foreign Secretary, then a recommendation from the Minister of State, finally just a suggestion from the Ambassador. If it ever gets that far."

"Press statements are not delivered under oath."

"The Foreign Office is a hotbed of cold feet."


"Politicians are like children; you can't just give them what they want - it only encourages them."

"Any unwelcome initiative from a minister can be delayed until after the next election by the Civil Service 12-stage delaying process:
1. Informal discussions
2. Draft proposal
3. Preliminary study
4. Discussion document
5. In-depth study
6. Revised proposal
7. Policy statement
8. Strategy proposal
9. Discussion of strategy
10. Implementation plan circulated
11. Revised implementation plans
12. Cabinet agreement"

"The Treasury does not work out what it needs and then think how to raise the money. It pitches for as much as it can get away with and then thinks how to spend it."

"Government is not a team. It is a loose confederation of warring tribes."

"There is a moral principle involved in the government's attitude to smoking. But when four billion pounds of tax revenue is at stake, we have to consider very seriously how far we are entitled to indulge ourselves in the rather selfish luxury of pursuing moral principles."

"The history of the world is the history of the triumph of the heartless over the mindless."

"You can't put the nation's interest at risk just because of some silly sentimentality about justice."

"The Foreign Office never expect the Cabinet to agree with any of their policies. That is why they never explain them. All they require is that the Cabinet acquiesce in their decisions after they have been taken."

"The Foreign Office are not spineless. It takes a great deal of strength to do nothing all the time."


"Getting the PM to choose the right bishop is like a conjuror getting a member of the audience to choose a card. With the Church of England the choice is usually between a knave and a queen."

"The bench of bishops should have a proper balance between those who believe in God and those who don't."

"Bishops tend to live a long time, perhaps because the Almighty is not all that keen for them to join him."

"In Arab countries women get stoned when they commit adultery. In Britain, they commit adultery when they get stoned."

"We cannot leave the appointment of Bishops to the Holy Ghost, because no one is confident that the Holy Ghost would understand what makes a good Church of England bishop."

"Theology is a device for helping agnostics to stay within the Church of England."

"The Queen is inseparable from the Church of England. God is an optional extra."


"Irregular verbs:
I have an independent mind
You are an eccentric
He is round the twist"

"If you believe the security of the realm is at risk you don't hold a security enquiry, you call in the Special Branch. Government security enquiries are only used for killing press stories."

"Giving information to Moscow is serious. Giving information to anyone is serious. Some information would do Britain less harm if given to the Kremlin than if given to the Cabinet."


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Anonymous said...

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