Set principally in the private office of a British government cabinet minister in the (fictional) Department for Administrative Affairs in Whitehall (the sequel was set in the Prime Minister’s offices at 10 Downing Street), the series follows the senior ministerial career of The Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP, played by Paul Eddington. His various struggles to formulate and enact legislation or effect departmental changes are opposed by the will of the British Home Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Nigel Hawthorne. His Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds, is usually caught between the two. Almost every episode ends with the line “Yes, Minister” (or “Yes, Prime Minister”), uttered (usually) by Sir Humphrey as he relishes his victory over his “political master” or acknowledges defeat—and, more rarely, to acknowledge a joint victory.
Not until I returned to Canada after living in the States for nearly two decades did I realize just how veddy veddy similar the system here is to England’s, right down through every level, it seems, of government, from senior (Federal) to middle-senior (Provincial) to local (municipal). It strikes me that the people who run the show are the staff (the unelected bureaucrats), not the politicians. Call me naive, but I have a bit of a problem with that.
I mean, we can’t vote them out, can we?
I’m betting that tomorrow City of Victoria council (the politicians) will follow recommendations from staff (the bureaucrats) to go forward with replacing the historic Johnson Street Bridge. From where I’m sitting, as a very interested observer, it looks like this: the politicians, like well-played puppets, will fulfill the plan set in motion by staff some time ago (probably about 18 months, maybe 2 years ago). I don’t know whether they (the politicians) really have any idea what sort of shit-storm of public anger is going to hit them, …but, frighteningly, I can’t see that staff give a hoot – and therein lies the problem. After all, when the next election rolls around in 2011, staff will still have their well-paid jobs and glorious benefits, while the politicians will be out on their asses – and we the public will be left holding the bill.
From day one, it was clear that Engineering was hell-bent on getting a new bridge (to the point of presenting the Delcan Report in an extremely biased and one-sided way to council in April 2009), even if expenditures for a new bridge mean that this city has to go into massive debt and forgo every other sort of infrastructure project along with many opportunities for civic improvement. Their single-mindedness – and what it has cost in resources (human and financial) – is astonishing. The political capital, as well as the social capital, squandered on this gold-plated Cadillac project (whose true dollar cost is still unknown) could have been spent so much better on far worthier endeavors.
Talk about playing the public – and the politicians. On the one side, bureaucrats with benefits, on the other …chumps.
Postscript: I picked this particular Yes Minister segment because opinion polls will figure in a big way in tomorrow’s meeting.