Humorous Quotes from
The Complete Yes Minister
(The Diaries of Cabinet Minister)
- Being a journalist, Hacker had no particular talent for reporting facts.
- Years of political training and experience had taught Hacker to use twenty words where one would do, to dictate millions of words where mere thousands would suffice, and to use language to blur and fudge issues and events so that they became incomprehensible to others.
- Bernard then told me that they have two types of chair in stock, to go with two kinds of Minister - 'One sort folds up instantly and the other sort goes round and round in circles.'
- A career in politics is no preparation for government.
- Paperwork is the religion of the Civil Service. I can just imagine Sir
Humphrey Appleby on his deathbed, surrounded by wills and insurance claim forms, looking up and saying, 'I cannot go yet, God, I haven't done the paperwork.'
- Perhaps the government thinks that a tax is the best form of defence.
- 'The public,' said Sir Humphrey, 'do not know anything about wasting public money. We are the experts.'
- The Opposition aren't really the opposition. They're just called the
Opposition. But, in fact, they are the opposition in exile. The Civil
Service are the opposition in residence.
- Open Government is rather like the live theatre: the audience gets a
performance. And it gives a response. But, like the theatre, in order to
have something to show openly there must first be much hidden activity. And all sorts of things have to be cut or altered in rehearsals, and not shown to the public until you have got them right.
- 'I wouldn't call Civil Service delays "tactics", Minister,' he replied
smoothly. 'That would be to mistake lethargy for strategy.'
- He can't seem to grasp that I don't want the truth, I want something I can tell Parliament.
- 'If you must do this damn silly thing,' he said, 'don't do it in this damn
- Sir Frederick Stewart (Perm. Sec. of the FCO) actually said to Humphrey that once you allow a Minister to write a draft report, the next thing you know they'll be dictating policy.
- Bernard's overnight deliberations led him to propose a publicity campaign in the press, full-page ads praising the Department. He offered us some slogans: ADMINISTRATION SAVES THE NATION and RED TAPE IS FUN. We just
boggled at these ideas. So he then suggested RED TAPE HOLDS THE NATION TOGETHER.
- It's just like the United nations. The more members it has, the more
arguments you can stir up, and the more futile and impotent it becomes.
- This Europass things is the worst disaster to befall the government since I was made a member of the Cabinet. [We don't think that Hacker actually meant what he seems to be saying here - Ed.]
- You've only got to be in public life for about a week before you start to
question if the newspapers are even giving you today's date with any
- 'There's nothing special about man, Mr. Hacker. We're not above nature. We're all a part of it. Men are animals too, you know.'
Obviously I knew that already. I'd just come from the House of Commons.
- The consensus at our meeting was that it is only the urban intellectual
middle class who worry about the preservation of the countryside because they don't have to live in it.
- I was young and green and had not yet fully realized that the Official
Secrets Act is not to protect secrets but to protect officials.
- Sir Humphrey insisted that as a matter of principle, Ministers should never know more than they need to know. Like secret agents. Because they may be captured and tortured.
'By terrorists?' I asked.
'By the BBC,' he replied.
- He promised me that HMG would turn it all into a successful and profitable venture and all that bullshit. Whoever heard of the government being involved in a successful and profitable venture?
- I informed Bernard that most of our journalists are so amateur that they
would have grave difficulty in finding out that today is Thursday.
'It's actually Wednesday, Minister,' he said.
- The Welcoming Committee - I use the term in the very broadest sense, because I can hardly imagine a group of people who were less welcoming - were lined up on the steps.
- If no one knows what you're doing, then no one knows what you're doing wrong.
- 'First law of political indiscretion,' I replied. 'You always have a drink
before you leak.'
- Stalin didn't write any memoirs. He was too secretive. He was afraid people might read them.
- "Security" is the last excuse of a desperate bureaucrat.
- He replied that he was feeling very old. But he smiled. 'I'm already an
anomaly, I shall soon be an anachronism, and I have every intention of dying an abuse.'
- The problem is, quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Translation: who guards the guards? A quotation from Juvenal's Satires and not, as is commonly supposed in political circles, from juvenile satires.
- 'You just like having letters to put after your name to impress people,' I
sneered. 'You wouldn't impress people if they knew what they stood for: KCB? Knight Commander of the Most Noble Order of the Bath? Bloody daft. They'd think you were a plumber.
- No one really understands the true nature of fawning servility until he has seen an academic who has glimpsed the prospect of money.
- Appleby raised some footling idiotic question about what the Minister might think. In my experience Ministers don't think ... They never stopped to think, even if they possessed the basic intelligence necessary for thought - which several of them did not.
- How could it be, I asked myself. Then I asked myself, what's the point of asking myself? So I asked Humphrey.
- Suppression is the instrument of totalitarian dictatorships. You can't do
that in a free country. We would merely take a democratic decision not to publish it.
- Sir Humphrey Appleby would almost certainly have argued that, had the Sermon the Mount been a government report, it should certainly not have been published on the grounds that it was a thoroughly irresponsible document: the sub-paragraph suggesting that the meek will inherit the earth could, for instance, do irreparable damage to the defence budget.
- That hoary old cliché again. I told him to find a new one.
Bernard said that a new cliché could perhaps be said to be contradiction in terms.
- I asked him how it felt, going from the Commons to the Lords.
'It's like being moved from the animals to the vegetables,' he replied.
- The typical Common Market official is said to have the organizing capacity of the Italians, the flexibility of the Germans and the modesty of the French. He tops all that up with the imagination of the Belgians, the
generosity of the Dutch, and the intelligence of the Irish.
- This is no time to go on an idiotic foreign junket. One day you're out of
your office, the next day you're out of office.
- He's a smooth-tongued, cold-eyed, hard-nosed, two-faced creep,' I said, trying to be fair.
- Fred is definitely going, because he keeps falling asleep in cabinet - I
know they all do, but Fred has taken to nodding off while he's actually
- A good speech isn't one where we can prove that we're telling the truth - it's one where nobody else can prove we're lying.
- He that would keep a secret must keep it secret that he hath a secret to
- Mrs. Betty Oldham: But it's plain common sense to allow people to buy their own paper-clips.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Government policy has nothing to do with common sense.
- 'This needs a sledgehammer,' I declared. 'We must cut through the red tape.'
Bloody Bernard piped up again. 'You can't cut tape with a sledgehammer, it would just . . . '
- 'No, Humphrey,' I said, still smiling and patient. 'I don't think you've
quite got my drift. I'm talking about now.'
'But Minister,' he smiled smoothly, 'it takes time to do things now.'
- 'So, ' I said, 'on balance it's a good idea, isn't it?'
'On balance? Yes . . . and no.'
I told him that that was not a clear answer. He said it was a balanced
- I'm no anti-feminist. I love women. Some of my best friends are women. My wife, indeed.
- Hacker does not get bored easily. He even finds himself interesting.
- Arnold was most interested to learn that we have a Minister with two ideas. He couldn't remember when we last had one of those.
- 'You're telling me,' I asked, 'that winking at corruption is government
'Oh no Minister! That would be unthinkable. It could never be government policy. Only government practice.'
- I told him he was an appalling cynic. He took that as a compliment,
remarking that a cynic is only a term used by an idealist to describe a
- If in doubt, always issue an absolute denial. And if you're going to lie,
then lie with one hundred percent conviction.
- 'If I can pull it off,' I said carefully, 'it will be a feather in my cap.'
'If you pull it off,' said Bernard, 'it won't be in your cap any more.'
- The meeting is the sort that would be described in a communique as 'frank'. Or even 'frank' bordening on direct'. which means that the cleaners have to mop up the blood in the morning.
- Most leaks come from Number Ten. The ship of state is the only ship that leaks from the top.
- 'Minister, two basic rules of government: Never look into anything you don't have to. And never set up an enquiry unless you know in advance what its findings will be.'
- 'Can't you see,' I begged emotionally, 'that selling arms to terrorists is
wrong? Can't you see that?'
He couldn't. 'Either you sell arms or you don't,' was his cold, rational
reply. 'If you sell them, they will inevitably end up with people who have
the cash to buy them.'
- 'Almost all government policy is wrong,' he remarked obligingly, 'but
frightfully well carried out.'
- I asked Humphrey if I too would end up as a moral vacuum. His reply
surprised me. 'I hope so,' he told me. 'If you work hard enough.'
- I thought planning inspectors were impartial,' I said.
Bernard chuckled. 'Oh really Minister! So they are! Railway trains are
impartial too. But if you lay down the lines for them, that's the way they
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