yes minister -1

on 01/5/2012


the leadership of the party. The question was whether the PM would be strong enough to ignore Jim Hacker or whether, in the interests of party unity, the PM would be obliged to give him a good job — Ed. ]
By the end of today I’ve heard on the grapevine that Bill’s got Europe. Poor old Europe. Bill can’t speak French or German. He hardly even speaks English, as a matter of fact. Martin’s got the Foreign Office, as expected, Jack’s got Health and Fred’s got Energy.
I told Annie of these appointments, and she asked me if anyone had got Brains. I suppose she means Education.
October 24th
At last I’m a Cabinet Minister.
And today I had my first encounter with the Civil Service, and I must say I am very impressed.
I got the call from Number Ten at about 9 a. m., after a sleepless night, and immediately Frank Weisel and I caught the London train. I got a taxi to Number Ten, where I was asked by the PM to take over the Department of Administrative Affairs.
This is an important post. In the Cabinet ranking, about eighth or ninth I should think. On the other hand, Martin reminded me (when he phoned to congratulate me) that the DAA is a political graveyard, a bit like the Home Office, and the PM may have over-promoted me – a vengeful move. I am determined to get a grip on the DAA and prove to the PM that I’m not so easily taken care of.
I was expecting to be Minister of Agriculture, as I’ve shadowed Agriculture for seven years, and have many good ideas about it, but for some inexplicable reason the PM decided against this.
[We found a memo from Sir Andrew Donnelly, Permanent Secre tary of Agriculture, to Sir Arnold Robinson, Secretary to the Cabinet, imploring Sir Arnold to make sure that Hacker did not get Agriculture as he was too ‘genned up’ on it. Cabinet Papers show that Sir Arnold managed to convey to the PM that it would be better for Hacker not to go to Agriculture because ‘he’s been thinking about it rather too long and is perhaps in a bit of a rut’ – Ed. ]
An official car met me as I came out of Number Ten, and I was driven straight to the DAA. I was met on the front steps by Bernard Woolley, who is to be my Private Secretary, and his assistant. He seems a likeable enough chap.
To my surprise he instantly knew who Frank Weisel was, as we got out of the car, though he pronounced his name ‘Weasel’, which always infuriates Frank.
We walked down miles of corridors. When we got to my office Frank had disappeared with the Assistant Private Secretary. Bernard assured me that Frank was being taken care of. They really are awfully nice and helpful.
My office is large, with a big desk, a conference table with lots of chairs around it, and a few armchairs arranged around a coffee table to form a conversation area. Otherwise, rather characterless. Ber nard immediately went to the drinks cupboard.
‘A drink, Minister? ’
I nodded. ‘Jim, ’ I said, as I want us to be on first-name terms.
‘Gin? ’ he said, mishearing me.
‘No, ’ I said, ‘Jim. Call me Jim. ’
Bernard said: ‘If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather call you Minis ter, Minister. ’
‘Minister, Minister? ’ It reminded me of Major Major in Catch-22. Then I realised what he meant. I asked him, ‘Does that mean I have to call you Private Secretary, Private Secretary? ’
Bernard said I was to call him Bernard. I’m sure that in the course of time I’ll persuade him to call me Jim.
A moment later Sir Humphrey Appleby arrived. He is the Perma nent Secretary of the DAA, the Civil Service Head of the Depart ment. He is in his early fifties I should think, but – somehow – ageless. He is charming and intelligent, a typical mandarin. He welcomed me to the Department.
‘I believe you’ve met before, ’ Bernard remarked. I was struck for the second time how well-informed this young man is.
Sir Humphrey said, ‘Yes, we did cross swords when the Minister gave me a grilling over the Estimates in the Public Accounts Commit tee last year. He asked me all the questions I hoped nobody would ask. ’
This is splendid. Sir Humphrey clearly admires me. I tried to brush it off. ‘Well, ’ I said, ‘Opposition’s about asking awkward questions. ’
‘Yes, ’ said Sir Humphrey, ‘and government is about not answering them. ’
I was surprised. ‘But you answered all my questions, didn’t you, ’ I commented.
‘I’m glad you thought so, Minister, ’ said Sir Humphrey. I didn’t quite know what he meant by that. I decided to ask him who else was in the Department.
‘Briefly, sir, I am the Permanent Under-Secretary of State, known as the Permanent Secretary. Woolley here is your Principal Private
Secretary. I, too, have a Principal Private Secretary, and he is the Principal Private Secretary to the Permanent Secretary. Directly responsible to me are ten Deputy Secretaries, eighty-seven Under secretaries and two hundred and nineteen Assistant Secretaries. Directly responsible to the Principal Private Secretaries are plain Private Secretaries. The Prime Minister will be appointing two Par liamentary Under-Secretaries and you will be appointing your own Parliamentary Private Secretary. ’
‘Can they all type? ’ I joked.
‘None of us can type, Minister, ’ replied Sir Humphrey smoothly. ‘Mrs McKay types – she is your secretary. ’
I couldn’t tell whether or not he was joking. ‘What a pity, ’ I said. ‘We could have opened an agency. ’
Sir Humphrey and Bernard laughed. ‘Very droll, sir, ’ said Sir Humphrey. ‘Most amusing, sir,’ said Bernard. Were they genuinely amused at my wit, or just being rather patronising? ‘I suppose they all say that, do they? ’ I ventured.
Sir Humphrey reassured me on that. ‘Certainly not, Minister, ’ he replied. ‘Not quite all. ’
I decided to take charge at once. I sat behind my desk and to my dismay I found it had a swivel chair. I don’t like swivel chairs. But Bernard immediately assured me that everything in the office can be changed at my command – furniture, decor, paintings, office routine. I am unquestionably the boss!
Bernard then told me that they have two types of chair in stock, to go with two kinds of Minister – ‘One sort folds up instantly and the other sort goes round and round in circles. ’ On second thoughts, perhaps that was another of Bernard’s little jokes.
I decided that the time had come to be blunt and to tell them what’s what. ‘Frankly, ’ I said, ‘this Department has got to cut a great swathe through the whole of the stuffy Whitehall bureaucracy. We need a new broom. We are going to throw open the windows and let in a bit of fresh air. We are going to cut through the red tape and streamline this creaking old bureaucratic machine. We are going to have a clean sweep. There are far too many useless people just sitting behind desks. ’
I became aware that I was actually sitting behind a desk, but I’m sure that they realised that I was not referring to myself.
I explained that we had to start by getting rid of people who just make work for each other. Sir Humphrey was very helpful, and suggested that I mean redeploy them – which, I suppose, is what I do
mean. I certainly want to reduce overmanning, but I don’t actually want to be responsible for putting people out of work.
But, by the clean sweep and the new broom, I mean that we must have more Open Government. We made election pledges about this, and I intend to keep them. We must take the nation into our confidence. I said all this to Humphrey and Bernard who, to my surprise, were wholeheartedly in favour of these ideas.
Humphrey referred to my speeches on this subject in the House last year. And he referred to my Observer article, Daily Mail inter view, and the manifesto.
I am most impressed that he knows so much about me.
Humphrey then produced draft proposals, to implement my policy in a White Paper. I was flabbergasted. The efficiency of the Civil Service is quite astounding. They even plan, Sir Humphrey tells me, to call the White Paper ‘Open Government’.
All of these draft proposals are available to me within thirty-six hours of the new government being elected and within minutes of my arrival at my office. And on a weekend! Remarkable chaps. I asked Humphrey who had done all this.
‘The creaking old bureaucratic machine, ’ he replied with a smile. ‘No seriously, Minister, we are fully seized of the need for reform and we have taken it on board. ’
I told him I was slightly surprised.
‘I thought I’d have to fight you all the way, ’ I said.
Sir Humphrey remarked that people have funny ideas about the Civil Service.
‘ We are just here to help you formulate and implement your policies, ’ he explained.
He seems most sincere.
The draft proposals, which I have brought home tonight to my London flat in a red box, include ‘Proposals for Shortening Approval Procedures in Planning Appeals’. Excellent. Sir Humphrey was able to quote from Hansard the rather amusing question which I’d asked earlier this year in the House:
[Actually they cried ‘Bollocks’ – Ed. ]
As it’s Saturday, we have arranged to start things properly on Monday morning. But they’ve given me six red boxes for the weekend, four to be completed by tonight and two more tomorrow. Bernard tells me that the previous Minister got a bit slack about the paperwork, especially during the election campaign.
I’m certainly not going to be slack! I shall be a good Minister. I shall read everything they give me to read.
October 26th
I read all my boxes over the weekend. It took about nine hours. I caught the 7. 15 a. m. train to Euston, the official car met me, and I was in the office by 9. 20.,
All the draft proposals for Open Government are superficially pretty impressive, but I happen to know that the Civil Service is pretty good at delaying tactics. I mentioned this to Humphrey at a meeting today. I think he’s getting to know who’s boss around here.
But first things first. The day started with the diary. I found to my surprise that there were numerous appointments in it already. I asked how this was possible, since they didn’t even know who would win the election.
Bernard said: ‘We knew there’d be a Minister, Minister. ’ I told him not to start that again.
Sir Humphrey explained, ‘Her Majesty likes the business of government to continue, even when there are no politicians around. ’
‘Isn’t that very difficult? ’ I asked.
‘Yes… and no, ’ said Humphrey. I must say, I can’t see how it’s possible to govern without the politicians. I’m afraid that Humphrey might have delusions of grandeur…
My diary was pretty frightening. Cabinet at 10 on Thursday. Nine Cabinet committees this week. A speech to the Law Institute tomorrow night, a deputation from the British Computer Association
at 10. 30 tomorrow morning, University Vice-Chancellors lunch on Wednesday (another speech), opening the National Conference of Public Employers on Thursday morning (another speech), and so on.
I noticed that everything in the diary is in pencil, so presumably much of it can be and will be changed. I pointed out to Bernard that I have various other commitments.
Bernard looked puzzled. ‘Such as? ’ he asked.
‘Well… I’m on four policy committees of the party, for a start. ’
‘I’m sure you won’t be wanting to put party before country, ’ said Sir Humphrey. I had never looked at it in that light. Of course, he’s absolutely right.
They were going to give me three more red boxes for tonight, by the way. When I jibbed at this a bit, Sir Humphrey explained that there are a lot of decisions to take and announcements to approve. He then tried something on, by saying: ‘But we could, in fact, minimise the work so that you need only take the major policy decisions. ’
I saw through that ploy at once. I insisted that I would take all the decisions and read all the relevant documents.
They’ve given me five boxes for tonight.
October 27th
Today I found that we have a problem with Frank Weisel. It’s Tuesday today, and I realised that I hadn’t seen him since I arrived at the DAA last Saturday morning.
To be quite truthful, I didn’t actually realise it till he barged into my office, shouting and carrying on, demanding to be let in.
It appears that he’s been in the waiting room since Saturday. (I presume he went home on Sunday. ) Bernard tried to tell him that he, Humphrey and I were in private conference, but I quickly sorted that out. I demanded that Frank, as my adviser, be given an office in the Department.
Sir Humphrey attempted to fudge the issue, saying that I had a whole Department to advise me now. Nonetheless I insisted.
‘Well, ’ said Sir Humphrey, ‘I believe we have some spare office space in Walthamstow, don’t we Bernard? ’
Frank was appalled. ‘Walthamstow? ’
‘Yes, it’s surprising isn’t it? ’ said Sir Humphrey agreeably. ‘The government owns property all over London. ’
‘But I don’t want to be in Walthamstow, ’ explained Frank at the top of his voice.
‘It’s in a very nice part of Walthamstow, ’ put in Bernard.
‘And Walthamstow’s a very nice place. So I gather, ’ added Sir Humphrey.
Frank and I looked at each other. If they were not so charming and, well, gentlemanly, you might have thought they were trying to squeeze Frank right out.
‘I need an office here, in this building, ’ said Frank, firmly and extremely loudly.
I added my agreement. Sir Humphrey capitulated at once, and told Bernard to find a suitable office right away. I then said, to make assurance doubly sure, that I expected Frank to have copies of all the papers that are given to me.
Bernard seemed surprised. ‘All? ’
‘AH, ’ I said.
Sir Humphrey agreed immediately. ‘It shall be done – all the appropriate papers. ’
In my opinion, these civil servants are not nearly so hard to deal with as people say. They are mostly very co-operative and, even if not initially, always jump to it when spoken to firmly. I think I’m getting somewhere at last.
October 28th
After the last hectic four days, I have a little time to reflect – for posterity – on my first days in office.
First, I am impressed by the thorough grasp the officials at the DAA have of every situation. Second, how they are willing to co operate fully, albeit under pressure, with Frank Weisel.
Thirdly, I am most struck by my dependence on these civil servants. I, like virtually all our new administration, knew nothing of the workings of Whitehall except what I’d learned second-hand. Because we have been so long in opposition, only three members of the government, including the PM, have ever held office before. I had never seen the inside of a red box, never met a Permanent Secretary, and had no idea how things were really done. [This situation is similar to the one in which the Labour Government of 1964 found itself – Harold Wilson, the PM, was the only member of Cabinet who had previously been a Cabinet Minister – Ed. ] This makes us more depen dent on our officials than most new governments. Thank goodness they are behaving honourably.
[The following Monday, Sir Humphrey Appleby met Sir Arnold Robinson, Secretary to the Cabinet, at The Reform Club in Pall Mall. Sir Humphrey made a note about the meeting in his private diary. ]

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