Friday, 19 October 2007

From the Heritage bunker

Wednesday, 17th October

Sir Humphrey: Minister, here is the draft statement which we have prepared for you to read this afternoon.

Minister: But it doesn’t say anything.

Sir Humphrey: Precisely, Minister.

Minister: I can’t go into the Chamber and stand up and speak without saying anything.

Bernard: Oh, I don’t know Minister. You’ve managed it quite well for most of the past eight years.

Sir Humphrey: Minister, there are delicate negotiations in progress, difficult issues to be addressed, feathers to be unruffled. It cannot be helpful for these issues to be discussed openly in the full glare of media attention.

Minister: But we’re going to be pumping millions into the centre; surely I have to tell them that?

Sir Humphrey: Minister, there is no point telling them something they already know. Everyone knows that you’re going to be pumping millions in, but it’s important to the negotiations that you do not reveal how many millions.

Minister: So how many millions will we be pouring in?

Sir Humphrey: Oh, I don’t know. As many as they ask for. This is a flagship Arts project which cannot be allowed to fail.

Minister: If we’re going to give them whatever they ask for, that doesn’t sound like much of a negotiation to me.

Sir Humphrey: Well, Minister, if you really want to tell them that, you can, but it would be a very brave decision on your part.

Minister: Thank you Sir Humphrey.

Bernard: I don’t think you understand, Minister. Sir Humphrey means that it would raise a lot of other questions.

Minister: Such as?

Bernard: Well, Minister, to start with, people might wonder where the money was coming from, and what other schemes would be suffering as a result.

Minister: And where is the money coming from?

Sir Humphrey: Oh, there are a lot of minor unimportant little Arts projects in other constituencies across Wales which might have to be deferred for a while.

Minister: Deferred. That doesn’t sound too bad. For how long?

Sir Humphrey: Hard to say, Minister. Months, years, possibly decades.

Minister: That sounds more like cancelled than deferred to me.

Sir Humphrey: Oh no, Minister. We almost never cancel projects; we prefer to defer them.

Minister: I see. So I speak without saying anything – how do I handle questions?

Sir Humphrey: Well, your predecessors would always attack the people who leaked the document. Damaging sensitive negotiations, that sort of thing.

Minister: But I’ve used leaked documents in the past myself – won’t I look a little inconsistent?

Bernard: No-one expects consistency from a politician.

Sir Humphrey: You are the Minister. Your predecessor was the Minister. To us, names and individuals are unimportant; there is only The Minister, and The Minister is always consistent.

Minister: You mean that now that I’m the Minister, I carry on doing whatever the previous Minister did?

Sir Humphrey and Bernard: Yes, Minister.