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Monday, October 22, 2007


I promised an excerpt from Yes Minister, a series of documentaries on how the British governmental system, with most of the names changed & disguised as a situation comedy. Scripts subsequently republished in book form.


Stage one: The public interest
1) You hint at security considerations.
2) You point out that the report could be used to put unwelcome pressure on government because it might be misinterpreted. [Of course, anything might be misinterpreted. The Sermon on the Mount might be misinterpreted. Indeed, Sir Humphrey Appleby would almost certainly have argued that, had the Sermon on the Mount been a government report, it should certainly not have been published on the grounds that it was a thoroughly irresponsible document: the sub-paragraph suggesting that the meek will inherit the earth could, for instance, do irreparable damage to the defence budget -- Ed.]
3) You then say that it is better to wait for the results of a wider and more detailed survey over a longer time-scale.
4) If there is no such survey being carried out, so much the better. You commission one, which gives you even more time to play with.

Stage two: Discredit the evidence that you are not publishing
This is, of course, much easier than discrediting evidence that you do publish. You do it indirectly, by press leaks. You say:
(a) that it leaves important questions unanswered
(b) that much of the evidence is inconclusive
(c) that the figures are open to other interpretations
(d) that certain findings are contradictory
(e) that some of the main conclusions have been questioned

Points (a) to (d) are bound to be true. In fact, all of these criticisms can be made of a report without even reading it. There are, for instance, always some questions unanswered -- such as the ones they haven't asked. As regards (e), if some of the main conclusions have not been questioned, question them! Then they have.

Stage three: Undermine the recommendations
This is easily done, with an assortment of government phrases:
(a) 'not really a basis for long-term decisions...'
(b) 'not sufficient information on which to base a valid assessment...'
(c) 'no reason for any fundamental rethink of existing policy...'
(d) 'broadly speaking, it endorses current practice...'

These phrases give comfort to people who have not read the report and who don't want change -- i.e. almost everybody.

Stage four: If stage three still leaves doubts, then Discredit The Man Who Produced the Report
This must be done OFF THE RECORD. You explain that:
(a) he is harbouring a grudge against the government
(b) he is a publicity seeker
(c) he's trying to get his knighthood
(d) he is trying to get his chair
(e) he is trying to get his Vice-Chancellorship
(f) he used to be a consultant to a multinational company or
(g) he wants to be a consultant to a multinational company (The Complete Yes Minister, pp. 257-9)

Other pearls of official wisdom from the programme here

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