Secret Yes Minister memos unearthed


Good writing = longevity in the world of British comedy

One can’t help but think of the classics that have stood the test of time such as Fawlty Towers, Blackadder or Monty Python. Excellent writing delivers not only a classic comedy, but one that is also as relevant, or more, today than they were when first penned some 30 years ago. It was true with The Good Life, written by Bob Larbey and John Esmonde, and is, without question, true with the Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn creation of Yes Minister and Yes Minister.

Having premiered on the BBC in 1980, it makes one consider just how the likes of Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne, would get on in today’s political climate. As a refresher, here’s the brilliant Sir Humphrey at his finest.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yhN1IDLQjo

The more things change, the more they stay the same

With an amazing sense of timing, the Telegraph has just recently unearthed several secret memos from the Cabinet Secretary to his Personal Private Secretary, Bernard Wooley. A perfect example from the first memo unearthed….

From: Sir Humphrey Appleby

To: Bernard Woolley

Subject: Electoral Reforms

We should welcome the proposals for electoral reform. Fewer MPs will mean larger constituencies. The larger the         constituency, the fewer voters will know their representative, and the more they will vote for the party and not the candidate. This means that MPs’ careers will depend on the favour of Party HQ, not the approval of their constituents.

There was a terrible period after 1832 when a constituency numbered about 1,200 voters and their member could know nearly all of them. This meant he could disobey his party leaders so long as he retained the support of his constituents. Fortunately we have, through successive Reform Acts, enlarged constituencies to 50,000 or more and thus brought MPs back under government control. It is our duty to then guide the party in power towards the correct decisions, which they can then impose on their party. We have a proud record of success in this task.

The alternative vote system is a trivial measure, but still a move in the right direction. Our objective is full Proportional Representation, when electors simply vote for a party, and the parties then appoint their placemen in proportion to the votes they receive. This would cut the last link between the MP and voter, eliminating the risk of voters electing one of those maverick independent-minded members who cause us so much trouble. All MPs will have their jobs by virtue of party patronage alone and therefore their docility will be guaranteed. Furthermore, it will greatly increase the likelihood of a coalition, as no single party will be able to introduce those sweeping reforms which overturn those tried and trusted administrative procedures which enable us to conduct responsible government.

Your criticisms of some aspects of government as being ”undemocratic’’ suggest a profound misunderstanding. Democracy is the enemy of government. The mass of voters have no idea how the country should be run. That is our job. Democracy is only a device to enable the government to pretend it is acting with the consent of the people.

Additional memos unearthed here, where it’s clear Sir Humphrey is not about to let his agenda for a smooth running government be derailed by a little thing such as a country facing financial meltdown.

  • Wout Thielemans

    This isn’t funny – this is just the way democracy works in many mainland European countries.