yes minister – 4

by rainsight on 01/7/2012
November 9th
Today was disastrous. There have been some quite astounding turns of events.
My speech was completed. I was sitting in the office reading the press release when Bernard burst in with a minute from the PM’s private office.
I have learned, by the way, that minutes, memos and submissions are all the same thing. Except that ministers send minutes to civil servants and to each other, whereas civil servants send memos and minutes to each other but submissions to ministers.
[This is because a minute takes or orders action whereas a memo presents the background arguments, the pros and cons. Therefore, civil servants may send either to each other, as may politicians -but as a civil servant may not tell a Minister what to do he sends a submission, the very word designed to express an attitude of humility and respect. Minutes may, of course, also be notes about official meetings, and this meaning gives rise to the well-known Civil Service axiom that meetings are where civil servants take minutes but politicians take hours – Ed. ]
Anyway, the minute made it dear that we were all to be very nice to the Yanks for the next few weeks. I realised that my speech, which had gone out to the press, could not have been timed worse.
I was appalled. Not only by my bad luck. But I find it incredible that I, as a member of the Cabinet, should have no knowledge of forth­coming defence agreements with the Americans. Whatever has hap­pened to the doctrine of collective responsibility that I learned about at the LSE?
Sir Humphrey then hurried in to my office, looking slightly panicky.
‘Sorry to burst in, Minister, but all hell’s broken loose at Number Ten – apparently they’ve just seen your speech. They are asking why we didn’t obtain clearance. ’
‘What did you say? ’ I asked.
‘I said that we believe in Open Government. But it seemed to make things worse. The PM wants to see you in the House, right away. ’
I realised that this could be the end for me. I asked Humphrey what was likely to happen. Sir Humphrey shrugged.
‘The Prime Minister giveth – and the Prime Minister taketh away. ’
I left the room feeling sick. As I started down the corridor I thought I heard Sir Humphrey add: ‘Blessed be the name of the Prime Minister. ’ But I think I must have imagined that.
Humphrey, Frank and I hurried down Whitehall past the Cenotaph (how very appropriate that seemed! ). There was an icy wind blowing. We went straight to the House. I was to meet the PM behind the Speaker’s chair.
[This does not mean, literally, behind the chair. It is the area of the House where the PM and the Leader of the Opposition, the two Chief Whips, the Leader of the House and others, meet on neutral ground to arrange the business of the House. The PM’s office is to be found there too- Ed. ]
We were kept waiting for some minutes outside the PM’s room. Then Vic Gould, our Chief Whip, emerged. He came straight over to me.
‘You’re a real pain in the arse, aren’t you? ’ Vic really does pride himself on his dreadful manners. ‘The PM’s going up the wall. Hitting the roof. You can’t go around making speeches like that. ’
‘It’s Open Government, ’ said Frank.
‘Shut up, Weasel, who asked you? ’ retorted Vic. Rude bugger. Typical Chief Whip.
‘Weisel, ’ said Frank with dignity.
I sprang to Frank’s defence. ‘He’s right, Vic. It’s Open Govern­ment. It’s in our manifesto. One of our main planks. The PM believes in Open Government too. ’
‘Open, yes, ’ said Vic. ‘But not gaping. ’ Very witty, I don’t think! ‘In politics, ’ Vic went on relentlessly, ‘you’ve got to learn to say things with tact and finesse – you berk! ’

I suppose he’s got a point. I felt very sheepish, but partly because I didn’t exactly enjoy being ignominiously ticked off in front of Hum­phrey and Frank.

‘How long have you been a Minister? ’ Vic asked me. Bloody silly question. He knows perfectly well. He was just asking for effect.
‘A week and a half, ’ I told him.
‘Then I think you may have earned yourself a place in the Guinness Book of Records, ’ he replied. ‘I can see the headlines already –
CABINET SPLIT ON U. S. TRADE. HACKER LEADS REVOLT AGAINST prime minister! That’s what you wanted, is it? ’
And he walked away.
Then Sir Arnold Robinson, the Cabinet Secretary, came out of the PM’s office. Sir Humphrey asked him what news there was.
Sir Arnold said the same things, only in Whitehall language. ‘That speech is causing the Prime Minister some distress. Has it definitely been released to the press? ’
I explained that I gave express instructions for it to go out at twelve noon. Sir Arnold seemed angry with Sir Humphrey. ‘I’m appalled at you, ’ he said. I’ve never heard one civil servant express himself so strongly to another. ‘How could you allow your Minister to put himself in this position without going through the proper channels? ’
Humphrey turned to me for help. ‘The Minister and I, ’ he began, ‘believe in Open Government. We want to throw open the windows and let in a bit of fresh air. Isn’t that right, Minister? ’
I nodded, but couldn’t speak. For the first time, Sir Arnold addres­sed me directly.
‘Well, Minister, it’s good party stuff but it places the PM in a very difficult position, personally. ’ That, in Sir Arnold’s language, is about the most threatening: thing that has ever been said to me.
‘But… what about our commitment to Open Government? ’ I finally managed to ask.
‘This, ’ replied Sir Arnold drily, ‘seems to be the closed season for Open Government. ’
Then Sir Humphrey voiced my worst fears by murmuring quietly: ‘Do you want to give thought to a draft letter of resignation? Just in case, of course. ’
I know that Humphrey was just trying to be helpful, but he really doesn’t give much moral support in a crisis.
I, could see that there was only one possibility left. ‘Can’t we hush it up? ’ I said suddenly.
Humphrey, to his credit, was completely baffled by this suggestion. He didn’t even seem to understand what I meant. These civil servants

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