hard heads soft hearts
Wednesday, June 05, 2002
an excerpt from "The Complete Yes Prime Minister", by Jonathan Lynn and Antony Jay
"BW appears to believe that the purpose of our defense policy is to defend Britain. Clearly in this modern world this is an impossibility. Therefore, the only purpose of our defense policy is to make people believe that Britain is defended. Some advocates of the deterrent theory understand this, but they assume that our defense policy is designed to make the Russians believe that we are defended. This is absurd. Our policy exists to make the British believe Britain is defended - the Russians know it's not.
BW and the PM are seeking a better way, which is doubtless thoroughly laudable. But the very words "better way" imply change, always a most dangerous notion. At the moment we hae a magic wand. It is called Trident. No one understands anything about it except that it will cost 15 billion pounds, which means that it must be wonderful. Magical. We just have to write the check, and then we can all relax. But if people in the government start talking about it, eventually they wil start thinking about it. Then they will realize the problems, the flaws in the reasoning. Result: the nation gets anxious. . .
The PM's rights are obvious and generous. He gets his own car and driver, a nice house in London, a place in the country, endless publicity and a pension for life. I asked BW what more the PM wants. `I think he wants to govern Britain,' he replied.
This must be stopped! He is not qualified."
"I had seen the party opinion poll as an insuperable obstacle to changing the Prime Minister's mind. However, Humphrey's solution was simple: have another opinion poll done, one that would show that the voters were against bringing back the National Service [conscription]. I was somewhat naive in those days. I did not understand how the voters could be both for it and against it. Dear old Humphrey showed me how it's done.
The secret is that when the Man In The Street is approached by a nice attractive young lady with a clipboard he is asked a series of questions. Naturally the Man In The Street wants to make a good impression and doesn't want to make a fool of himself. So the market researcher asks questions designed to elicit consistent answers. Humphrey demonstrated the system on me
"Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?"
"Yes," I said.
"Do you think there is a lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?"
"Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?"
"Do they respond to a challenge?"
"Might you be in favor in reintroducing National Service?"
Well, naturally I said yes. One could hardly have said anything else without looking inconsistent. Then what happens is that the Opinion Poll publishes only the last question and answer. Of course the reputable polls don't conduct themselves like that. But there weren't too many of those. Humphrey suggested we commission a new survey, not for the Party but for the Ministry of Defense. We did so. He invented the questions there and then:
"Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?"
"Yes," I said, quite honestly.
"Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?"
"Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?"
"Do you think it's wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?"
"Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?"
I'd said "Yes" before I'd even realized it, d'you see? Humphrey was crowing with delight. "You see, Bernard," he said to me, "you're the perfect Balanced Sample""
"I suggested there might be educational question marks about the credentials of the man putting the idea forward: Professor Rosenbaum. Giles agreed enthusiastically. He felt it could be argued that Rosenbaum's figures have come under severe critical scrutiny, or perhaps he is academically suspect. Indeed, Giles recalled there is a paper coming out that criticizes the whole basis of Professor Rosenbaum's thinking. It will be coming out tomorrow morning. [This technique is known in the Civil Service, as it is in soccer, as Playing the Man, Not the Ball - Ed.]
It so happens that this paper will be written [Sir Humphrey made a slip here. He should have said has been writen - Ed.] by one of the Professor's who was passed over for Chief Scientific Adviser. Not that he is jealous - he just feels that Rosenblum's influence may not be an entirely good thing. We agreed that, to avoid hurting his feelings, it would probably be best if Professor Rosenblum does not actually see the paper. It should be submitted by Giles as personal advice to the Secretary of State. [it is essential, if you play the man and not the ball, that you do not let the man know you are doing so - Ed.]"