Sunday, April 16, 2006

My favorite Principles from Yes Minister

Sir Humphrey's system for stalling a minister's policy proposal, called Creative Inertia

Stage One: Administration is in its early months and there is an awful lot of other things to get on with.

Stage Two: I quite appreciate the intention, it certainly ought to be done - but is this the right way to achieve it?

Stage Three: This is not the time, for all sorts of reasons.

Stage Four: The policy has run into difficulties - technical, political and/or legal.

Stage Five: We're getting rather near to the run-up to the next general election - so we can't be sure of getting the policy

Government procedure for suppressing unwanted reports

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.

3) You then say 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

You do it indirectly, by press leaks. You say:

    (a) it leaves important questions unanswered
    (b) much of the evidence is inconclusive
    (c) the figures are open to other interpretations
    (d) certain findings are contradictory
    (e) 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 recommendation

This is easily done, with an assortment of governmental 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 anybody.

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's trying to get his chair
    (e) he's 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 five standard excuses of the Civil Service

1. The Anthony Blunt excuse

There is a perfectly satisfactory explanation for everything, but security prevents its disclosure.

2. The Comprehensive Schools excuse

It's only gone wrong because of heavy cuts in staff and budget which have stretched supervisory resources beyond the limit.

3. The Concorde excuse

It was a worthwhile experiment now abandoned, but not before it provided much valuable data and considerable employment

4. The Munich Agreement excuse

It occurred before important facts were known, and cannot happen again. (The important facts in question were that Hitler wanted to conquer Europe. This was actually known; but not to the Foreign Office, of course)

5. The Charge of the Light Brigade excuse

It was an unfortunate lapse by an individual which has now been dealt with under internal disciplinary procedures.

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