From: Sir Humphrey Appleby
To: Bernard Woolley
Subject: Induction Course
I am delighted you will be running this induction course for this year’s intake of potential high-fliers. You will obviously have the official course notes and handouts, but there are some points of which they need to be apprised but which for reasons of confidentiality cannot be committed to paper. It is nevertheless vital that they should be made aware of them.
The first point to make clear to them is that ministers – indeed all politicians – belong to a different world from ours. Theirs is a world of appearances, ours is a world of reality. Theirs is a world of words, ours is a world of actions. We have to think years ahead, they think days ahead (a few think weeks ahead; they are called ‘statesmen’). A week is a long time in their world: a year is a short time in ours. They think they have been successful when everybody knows what they are doing: we know we have been successful when nobody knows what we are doing. We ask ‘Will this work?’ They ask ‘How will this look?’. Our concern is to formulate and execute policies that will improve the lives of our fellow citizens. Their concern is to get re-elected. Every action they take, every word they speak in public, has to pass through the filter of ‘Will this improve or impair my chances of re-election?’ They are obsessed with ingratiating themselves with the press, with Number Ten, with their cabinet colleagues, with the House of Commons, with the party conference, with their constituents. Obviously this leaves them little or no time for the serious business of government for which few of them are qualified and which of course we can carry out for them. We can indeed use their obsession with popularity to guide them away from ill-judged or unwelcome decisions: ‘I’m not sure Number Ten will be happy with this’, ‘Don’t you think the party in the House might object?’, ‘But how will this go down with Conference?’, ‘If the press got hold of this, they could have a field day.’
Despite this obsession with burnishing and projecting their public image, there is still a danger that some of them will find time to try and trespass on our territory and interfere with the business of government. We therefore have to make sure they are kept busy. Ministers need activity; it is their substitute for achievement. They will of course have cabinet committees, appearances before select committees and parliamentary questions to keep them out of our way for much of the time. We also need to arrange for them to attend conferences – especially overseas as this adds valuable travelling time – to greet visitors, to meet delegations and to carry out press briefings. If there are still dangerous spaces in their diary they must be filled with ceremonial functions – cutting tapes, unveiling plaques, presenting certificates and opening factories, preferably in the more remote provincial cities.
All this may sound trivial, but it is absolutely essential if we are to prevent opinionated amateurs from jeopardising the professional management of the affairs of the nation.
(Sir Humphrey Appleby KCB CVO)
© Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn, 3 September 2010