El Mundo Today


"Minister, Government isn't about Good and Evil; it's only about Order or Chaos"

─Humphrey, I must talk to you about something; something that concerns me deeply, really profoundly important.
─Is it the Amendment to the Administrative Order on Stock Control in Government Establishments?
─...Or the Procedure for Renewal of Local Authority Leaseholds in... Special Development Areas?
─No, what concerns me is a Great Issue really of Life and Death.
─Ah... Shouldn't that wait till after Work?
─It is Work.
─Really? Please go on.
─How do British armament manufacturers sell their arms to Foreigners?
─I believe you have to get an Export Licence from the Department of Trade.
─So Private Firms can sell their arms abroad?
─Private Companies and Government Agencies.
─To whom do they sell?
─Foreign Governments, usually.
─Is that all?
─Well, sometimes you can sell to an arms Dealer, Third Party… Or perhaps a little man in Manchester buys on behalf of a Party in the Channel Islands who’s contacts in Luxembourg...
─So there's no real Control over who the arms go to in the end.
─Indeed there is. The Dealer has to provide an End-User Certificate, which is a Signature acceptable to H.M.’s Government, that the ultimate Customer is in fact an Approved User.
─Is that a real Guarantee? I mean, would you be surprised, for instance, if a British aircraft carrier turned up in the Central African Republic?
─I, for one, Minister, would be very surprised. It's 1,000 miles inland.
─You know what I mean. What about smaller weapons?
─It's officially impossible. Stringent Security, rigorous Inspection Procedures, meticulous Scrutiny...
─You mean it's all a facade?
─...Ah! I think perhaps this conversation should end here, don’t you, Minister?
─No, it's as I thought. Last night a confidential source disclosed to me that British arms are being sold to Italian Red terrorist groups.
─I see. May I ask who this confidential source was?
─Humphrey, I just said it was confidential.
─I'm sorry, I naturally assumed that meant you were going to tell me.
─You don't seem to be very worried by this information.
─These things happen all the time. It's not our problem.
So does robbery with violence. Doesn't that worry you?
No, Minister. Home Office problem.
Humphrey, we're letting terrorists get hold of murderous weapons!
We're not.
Well, who is?
─Who knows? Department of Trade? Ministry of Defence? Foreign Office?
─We, Humphrey, the British Government. Innocent lives are being set at risk by British arms in the hands of terrorists.
Only Italian lives, not British lives, Minister.
Could be British tourists abroad.
Tourists? Foreign Office problem.
─Humphrey, we have to do something.
─With respect, Minister, we have to do nothing.
─What do you mean?
─The sale of arms abroad is one of those areas of Government that we do not examine too closely.
─I have to, now that I know about it.
─You could say you don't know.
─Are you suggesting I should lie?
─Not you, Minister, no.
─Well, who should lie?
─Sleeping dogs, Minister.
─I'm going to raise this.
─No, Minister, I beg you. A basic rule of Government is: never look into anything you don't have to; never set up an Enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be…
─I can't believe this! We're talking about Good and Evil.
─A Church of England problem.
─No, Humphrey. Our problem. We're discussing Right and Wrong.
─You may be, Minister, but I'm not. It would be a serious misuse of Government time.
─Selling arms to terrorists is wrong. Can’t you see that, Humphrey?
─No, Minister. Either you sell arms or you don't. If you sell them, they will inevitably end up with people who have the cash to buy them.
─But not terrorists!
─I suppose we could put some sort of Government Health Warning on the rifle butts: "This gun can seriously damage your health."
─You may very well take this lightly, but we cannot close our eyes to something that is as morally wrong as this.
─Very well, Minister. If you insist on making me discuss moral issues, may I point out to you that something is either morally wrong or it isn't. It can't be slightly morally wrong.
─Don't quibble, Humphrey.
─Government isn't about Morality.
─Really? What is it about?
─Stability. Keeping things going. Preventing Anarchy. Stopping Society from falling to bits. Still being here tomorrow.
─What for?
─I beg your pardon?
─What is the ultimate purpose of Government, if it isn’t for doing Good?
─Minister, Government isn't about Good and Evil. It's only about Order or Chaos.
─And it's in order for Italian terrorists to get British bombs? And you don't care?
─It's not my job to care. That's what politicians are for. My job is to carry out Government Policy.
─Even if you think it's Wrong?
─Almost all Government Policy is Wrong, but... frightfully well carried out.
─Humphrey, have you ever known a Civil Servant to resign on a matter of Principle?
─I should think not! What an appalling suggestion!
─For the first time I fully understand that you are purely committed to Means and not to Ends.
─As far as I'm concerned, Minister, and all of my colleagues, there is no difference between Means and Ends.
─If you believe that, Humphrey, you will go to Hell.
─Minister, I had no idea you had a theological bent.
─You are a moral vacuum, Humphrey.
─If you say so, Minister.
[Bernard:] ─It’s time for your lunch appointment, Minister.
─You're keeping very quiet, Bernard. What would you do about all this?
─I would keep very quiet, Minister.
[Humphrey:] ─So, Minister, may we drop this matter of the arms sales?
─No, we may not! I'm going to tell the PM personally. Make an appointment for me, will you, Bernard? This is just the sort of thing that the PM wants to know about.
─I assure you, Minister, this is just the sort of thing the PM desperately wants not to know about.
─We shall see about that. [EXITS]
─Indeed we will… What's the matter, Bernard?
─Nothing really, Sir Humphrey.
─You look unhappy.
─I was just wondering if the Minister was right, actually.
─Very unlikely. What about?
─About ends and means. Will I end up as a moral vacuum, too?
─Oh, I hope so, Bernard. If you work hard enough.
─Makes me feel rather downcast. If it's our job to carry out Government Policies, shouldn't we believe in them?
─Oh, what an extraordinary idea!
─Bernard... I have served 11 Governments in the past... 30 years. If I'd believed in all their Policies, I'd have been passionately committed to keeping out of the Common Market, and passionately committed to going into it. I'd have been utterly convinced of the rightness of nationalising steel, and of denationalising it, and renationalising it. Capital Punishment? I'd have been a fervent retentionist and an ardent abolitionist. I'd have been a Keynesian and a Friedmanite, a Grammar School preserver and destroyer, a nationalisation freak and a privatisation maniac; but above all, I would have been a stark-staring raving schizophrenic!
─So what do we believe in?
─At this moment, Bernard, we believe in stopping the Minister from informing the PM.
─But why?
─Because once the PM knows, there will have to be an Enquiry, like Watergate. The investigation of a trivial break-in led to one ghastly revelation after another and finally the downfall of a President. The Golden Rule is don't lift lids off cans of worms.
─No, Sir Humphrey.
─Everything is connected to everything else. Who said that?
─The Cabinet Secretary?
─Nearly right. Actually, it was Lenin.
─So how do you stop a Cabinet Minister talking to a PM?
─Well now, this is a very interesting question. You tell me.
─I don't know.
─Well, work it out, Bernard. You're supposed to be a High-Flier. Or are you really a Low-Flier supported by occasional gusts of wind?
─Well, you can't stop the Minister seeing the PM, can you?
─I can't.
─Nor can the Private Office at No. 10.
─So it has to be someone pretty high up in Government.
─Getting warmer…
─Someone close to the PM.
─Someone who can frighten the Minister... The Chief Whip?
─Excellent, Bernard, you've learnt a lot. So, how do you crack the whip?
─I'm sorry?
─How do you mobilise the Chief Whip?
─The Minister's asked me to phone the PM's Private Office for an appointment, so if you had a word with the Cabinet Secretary, and he had a word with the Diary Secretary, and they all had a word with the Whip's Office... then when the Minister arrived, the Chief Whip could meet him and say the PM is rather busy, and he'd ask him to have a word with the Minister instead.
─Excellent, Bernard. You should have taken a degree in Engineering… What are you doing?
─I thought you wanted to talk to the Cabinet Secretary.
─I do, indeed. Now, do you, Bernard, as the Minister's Private Secretary, feel obliged to tell the Minister of this conversation?
─What conversation?
─Well done, Bernard. You'll be a moral vacuum yet!

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