Friday Fun 3: The political education of Bernard Woolley
This week we follow Bernard as he comes to terms with some of the realities of political life, usually as a result of the instructions from his mentor and overlord, Sir Humphrey…
His Job Description (from Sir Humphrey)
A Private Secretary should not have to decide whether he’s on the minister’s side or the department’s side when the chips are down. His job is to see the chips stay up.
Civil servants should not discuss moral issues with politicians. It is a serious misuse of government time.
If you do not want Cabinet to spend too long discussing something, make it last on the agenda before lunch.
If a matter is under consideration it means we’ve lost the file. Under active consideration means we’re trying to find it.
If civil servants could remove politicians on the grounds of incompetence, it would empty the House of Commons, remove the Cabinet, be the end of democracy and the beginning of responsible government.
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.
Sir Humphrey: Now go in there and inform me of their conversation
Bernard Woolley: I’m not sure I can do that, Sir Humphrey. It might be confidential.
Sir Humphrey: Bernard, the matter at issue is the defence of the realm and the stability of the government.
Bernard Woolley: But you only need to know things on a need-to-know basis.
Sir Humphrey: I need to know EVERYTHING! How else can I judge whether or not I need to know it?
Bernard Woolley: So that means you need to know things even when you don’t need to know. You need to know them not because you need to know them, but because you need to know whether or not you need to know. And if you don’t need to know you still need to know, so that you know there is no need to know.
Supporting his boss
Sir Humphrey: Bernard, what would you say to your present master as the next Prime Minister?
Bernard Woolley: The Minister?
Sir Humphrey: Yes.
Bernard Woolley: Mr Hacker?
Sir Humphrey: Yes.
Bernard Woolley: As Prime Minister?
Sir Humphrey: Yes.
[Bernard checks his watch.]
Bernard Woolley: Are you in a hurry?
Sir Humphrey: No. I’m just checking to see it wasn’t April the first.
Sir Humphrey: Hello, Bernard, I hear the Prime Minister wants to see me?
Bernard Woolley: Yes, Sir Humphrey.
Sir Humphrey: What’s his problem?
Bernard Woolley: Education.
Sir Humphrey: Well, it’s a bit late to do anything about that now.
Bernard’s ideas for slogans to make the department more popular:
- Administration saves the nation!
- Red tape is fun!
- Red tape holds the nation together!
Grappling with realities
Bernard Woolley: No we can’t have alphabetical seating in the Abbey; you would have Iraq and Iran sitting next to each other. Plus Israel and Jordan all sitting in the same pew. We would be in danger of starting World War III.
[How to deal with a nonsensical complaint]
Bernard Woolley: We can CGSM it.
Jim Hacker: CGSM?
Bernard: Civil Service code, Minister. It stands for ‘Consignment of Geriatric Shoe Manufacturers.’
Bernard: A load of old cobblers, Minister.
Jim: I’m not a civil servant. I shall use my own code. I shall write ‘Round Objects’.
The Joys of Bernard’s Pedantry
Jim Hacker: Bernard, this government is here to govern, not merely preside like our predecessors did. When a country is going downhill, it is time for someone to get into the driving seat and put his foot on the accelerator.
Bernard Woolley: I think you mean the brake.
Jim Hacker: Now, about nailing that leak –
Bernard Woolley: I’m sorry to be pedantic, but if you nail a leak you make another.
Jim Hacker: So they insult me and then expect them to give me more money?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, I must say it’s a rather undignified posture. But it is what artists always do: crawling towards the government on their knees, shaking their fists.
Jim Hacker: Beating me over the head with their begging bowls.
Bernard Woolley: Oh, I’m sorry to be pedantic, Prime Minister, but they can’t beat you over the head if they’re on their knees. Unless of course they’ve got very long arms.
Jim Hacker: Fortunately, Bernard, most of our journalists are so incompetent that they have the gravest difficulty in finding out that today is Wednesday.
Bernard Woolley: It’s actually Thursday, Minister.