The hierarchical bureaucratic terminology has been modified to conform with current Ottawa usage but otherwise the text was quoted as exactly as possible. Where modifications were required for continuity, these have been designated in square brackets such as: [Clarification]. Where there was a narrator, the indication in the text is: [N].
`(In fact, it was rare for policy to be clearly thought out, though some romantics and worshippers of `great men' like to think so. Usually it built itself from a thousand small arrangements, ideas, compromises, bits of give-and-take. There was not much which was decisively changed by a human will. Just as a plan for a military campaign does not spring fully-grown from some master general; it arises from a sort of Brownian movement of colonels and majors and captains, and the most the general can do is rationalize it afterwards.)'
Note to text added October 16, 1996: The above passage may be compared to the following paragraph written much later by Mark H. McCormack in his book on management strategies entitled What They Don't Teach You In Harvard Business School.
`In certain companies, particularly multi-nationals, multi-segmental operations, it is almost impossible to figure out the decision-making process, or to find any sort of critical authority. Decisions seem to be made only by some mysterious consensus that even the highest echelons of the management can't explain.'
This passage continues referring to the characteristics of those attending a public service committee meeting: `As in a college meeting, the reasons given were not always close to the true reasons. As in a college meeting, there was a public language-much of which was common to both. That minatory phrase `in his own interests' floated only too sonorously round Whitehall. The standard of competence and relevance was much higher than in a college meeting, the standard of luxurious untrammelled personality perceptibly lower. Like most visitors from outside, [N] had formed a marked respect for the administrative class of the Civil Service. [N] had lived among various kinds of able men, but [N] thought that, as a group, these were distinctly the ablest. And they loved their own kind of power.'
`He spoke with a flick of the tongue, but that did not mean it was strange for him, the Permanent Secretary [designated here from now on as the old DM], to be invited along with someone many rungs lower ([N] had started at what the Civil Service called a Principal), [the old DM] was too confident a man to bother with trivialities like that; he was himself formal, but he only objected to informality in others when it interfered with his administrative power.'
`[The old Minister said to N and the old DM referring to the atomic secrets], `I'm a great believer in no one knowing more that he's got to know to do his job. And I don't mind telling you that I've wondered whether either of you have got to know this time.'
`[The old DM] was irked by [the old Minister's] talent for using two words when one would do.'
`[The old Minister] settled down comfortably to another Polonius-like discourse on security. The first thing ... was to forget all about the official hierarchy, the next was to forget that you have any relatives. If you possess a secret ... your secretary may have to know: but not your second-in-command: and not your wife.'
`Usually, when [N] had seen men offered jobs, they had decided within three minutes, even though they conceal it from themselves, even though they managed to prolong the pleasure of deciding. Just for once, it was not so.'
`It's funny about the bomb,' [said the old Minister]. `If we manage to get it, what do we do with it then?'
`[At the club] a couple of [members] were Ministers ... and the [old Minister] looked towards them with a politician's insatiable hope. Had they any news for him? He could not help hoping. He was old, he had made such reputation as he could, if he stayed in office he would not add a syllable to it; he knew how irretrievably he was out of favour, and he did not expect to last three months; yet still, on that happy night, he wondered if he might hear of a reprieve, if he might not hear that he was being kept on, perhaps in an obscurer post.'
[After the failure of the first trial of the Atomic Pile, the old DM for once let his irritation show. Of the scientists he said] `they talk too much and do too little!'
`Nothing official ever got closed down flat, [the old Minister] used to say.'
`They might have been following the [old Minister's] first rule for any kind of politics: if there is a crisis, if anyone can do you harm or good, he used to say, looking simple, never mind your dignity, never mind your nerves, but always be present in the flesh.'
The famous passage that follows has been much quoted before:
`It struck [N] that all the top scientists at [the atomic research establishment] were present, but none of the engineers. As an outsider, it had taken [N] years to understand this rift in technical society. To begin with, [N] had expected scientists and engineers to share the same response to life. In fact, the difference in the response between the physicists and engineers often seemed sharper than the difference between the engineers and such men as [the old DM].'
`The room which had been found for [the old Minister now brought back as chairman] was at the end of the passage, and even more unpretentious than his room [when he was] Minister; [he] did not grumble, he had never in his life grumbled at a minor slight, he settled there and called it his `hutch' '.
`According to the rules, the top man got the top decoration; but for once [the old DM] would not have it so. He asked cold questions about who had done the work.'
`Like any sentient man [the scientist] had had his hesitations about this project (for [N's] benefit, he was reckoning up, as we stood beside the working pile, just how many such machines existed in the world). He had given his reasons why he went on with it, and why he believed all might turn out well. But now he had shut both doubts and justifications within him. He was not one of those who can work and at the same time remain detached about whether or not they are doing good. This was [the scientist's] empire, and as he looked over it he thought of nothing but how best to make it run.'
`No one was more hard-baked about honours [than the old Minister], and no one more skilled in obtaining then for recipients convenient to himself. ... But when on New Year's Day the names came out, [he] read them with innocent pleasure, and all the prizewinners, including those he had so candidly intrigued for, went up a step in his estimation.'
`Uneasily [N] felt that they were under-rating each other. [The old Minister] was an aristocrat; he had an impersonal regard for big business, but in his heart rarely liked the company of a businessman. In [the industrialist's] presence, as in the presence of most others of the human race, [the old Minister] could sound matey; he was not feeling so, he wanted to keep on amiable terms because that was the general principle of his life, but in fact he longed to bolt off to his club.'
`The tempers of men of action, even the hard contrived temper of [the industrialist], had no effect on [the old Minister], except to make him seem slightly more woolly. ... Expert in judging just how much protests were going to matter, [he] knew that if he consulted other firms before [the industrialist's], there was certain to be trouble, and probably trouble of a kind no politician of sense would walk into.'
`[The old DM] replied: `The rule is very simple, my dear [N], and it remains for each of us to apply it to himself. That is, when some interested party suddenly becomes passionately desirous of one's company. The rule is, do exactly as you would if the possibility of interest did not exist. If you wouldn't normally accept an invitation from our excellent friend, don't go. If you would normally accept, then do go, if you can bear it. I can't say I envy you the temptation.'
`[The industrialist], with his usual precision and realism, had made it his business to understand how government worked; it was no use, he had learned years before, to have the entrée to cabinet ministers unless you were also trusted by the [DMs] and their juniors.'
`The [old] Minister tended to get irritated with [N] when there was an issue which he had to settle but wished to go on pretending did not exist. His manner remained matey and unpretentious but, when [N] had to remind him that the [nuclear research establishment] contract must be placed within a fortnight, that two major firms as well as the [industrialist's] were pressing for an answer, [he] looked at [N] as though [N] had made a remark in bad taste. `First things first,' he said mysteriously, as though drawing on fifty years of political wisdom. ... In fact, he strenuously resented having to disappoint two or three influential men. Even those like [N] who were fond of the old man did not claim that political courage was his most marked virtue. To most peoples' astonishment, he had shown some of it in the struggle over [the research establishment]; he had actually challenged opinion in the Cabinet and had both prevailed and kept his job; now that was over, he felt it unjust to be pushed into more controversy, to be forced to make more enemies. Enemies-[the old Minister] hated the word. He wished he could give the contract to everyone who wanted it.'
`For some time [at the meeting] the parties exchanged questions, most of them technical: how long to build a plant in Canada, how pure must the heavy water be, what was the maximum output, Listening, [N] thought there was an odd difference between the Civil Servants and the businessmen. [The industrialist's] staff treated him with extreme, almost feudal deference, did not put questions on their own account, but made their comments to him. Whereas the Civil Servants, flat opposite to the others' stereotype of them, spoke with the democratic air of everyone having his say, and as though each man's opinion was as worth having as [the old DM's]'.
`I shall, of course, report this morning's proceedings to my master.' [The old DM] said the word with his customary ironic flick; but he was not the man to scurry to shelter. Unlike the [old Minister] he did not mind breaking bad news. Indeed, under the ritual minuet, he did it with a certain edge.'
`[N] wondered if [the industrialist] recognized that this was the end. At times his realism was absolute: but, like other men of action, he seemed to have the gift of switching it off and on at will. Thus he could go on, hoping and struggling, long after an issue was settled; and stupefy one by remarking he had written the business off days before.' `[The old DM] worked fast after the meeting, and within a fortnight the contract was given to one of [the industrialist's] rivals. During that fortnight, several of the [old] Minister's colleagues were rumoured to have gone to dinner at [the industrialist's home]; the Minister's position was precarious and some of those colleagues did not wish him well. But once the contract was signed, [N] thought it unlikely that [the industrialist] would waste any more time intriguing against the old man. [The industrialist] was much too practical a person to fritter himself away in revenge.'
`For now [N] had been long enough in the [regular civil service] office to be taken for granted: since the [old] Minister lost his job, [N] did not possess as much invisible influence as when [he] was more junior, but in official eyes [N] had gone up, and the days were stable, full of the steady, confident voices of power.'
`[The old DM said] `I shouldn't like us to forget that [the colleague being considered for tenure], showed a certain amount of moral courage, possibly a slightly embarrassing moral courage, over that ... complication last year. I scored a point to his credit over that. And I have an impression that [the colleague] has been improving. He's certainly been improving appreciably on paper, and I've come to respect his minutes.' '
`[The old DM] dexterously switched [another colleague being considered for tenure] on to legal points. Like many high-class Civil Servants, [the old DM] had a competent amateur knowledge of law; as [N, a lawyer] sat by, without any need to intervene while [the colleague] replied with his old confidence. ... [The old DM] said: most countries recruit their bureaucracy almost exclusively from lawyers: [the U.K.] bureaucracy is not fond of them: who is right? It was a topic the [old DM] knew backwards, but the [colleague], quite undeterred, argued as though he has been in the [DM's] offices for years: [N] found himself listening, not to the interview, but to the argument for its own sake: [N] found also that [the old DM], who usually timed interviews to the nearest two minutes, was letting this over-run by nearly ten.'
`That was the price [N] paid. For the [old DM], who in disapproval invariably said less than he meant, was telling me, not that [N] might turn out to have made an error of judgement, but that [N] had already done so. That is, [N] had set [his] opinion against official opinion beyond the point where [N] should have backed down. If [N] had been a real professional, with a professional's ambitions, [he] could not have afforded to. For it did not take many `errors of judgement'-the most minatory phrase [the old DM] could use to a colleague-docketed in that judicious mind, to keep one from the top jobs. If [N] became a professional, [he] should have the future, common enough if one looked around the Pall Mall clubs, of men of parts, often brighter than their bosses, who had inexplicably missed the top two rungs.'
`In the circumstances, [N] thought [the old Minister who had returned so unexpectedly to the Department in another capacity] might have risen to a taxi: but no, [he] stood at the bus-stop, briefcase in hand, bowler hat on head, getting a modest pleasure out of his unpretentiousness. At last we mounted a bus, the top deck of which was empty, so that [he] ... was able to confide [his confidential information].'
`[At the wedding reception] there were a good many Civil Servants among them [the old DM], for once at a disadvantage, abnormally uncomfortable and effusively polite, detesting any society except in the office and the club.'
`[The famous American physicist] `came in, very quiet and guarded, pearl cuff-links in his sleeves, his dinner jacket newer and more exquisite than any man's there. He was, so my scientific friends said, one of the most distinguished of scientists: but unlike the rest of them, he was also something of a dandy.'
`The [old DM] was not impressed by psychological guesses. He was occupied with something more businesslike. He assumed the [new] Minister was, as they said, ambitious. The [old DM] did not find that a matter for condemnation. But this job which the [new] Minister had taken had been the end of other ambitious men. That was a genuine point. If he had any choice, there must be something wrong with his judgement.'
`The new department was the civil servant's despair. It was true what the [old DM] had said: it had become a good place to send an enemy to. Not that the civil servants had any quarrel with the Government about general policy. The [old DM] and his colleagues were conservatives almost to a man. ... The point was, the new department, like anything connected with modern war, spent money, but did not, in administrative terms, have anything to show for its. The [old DM] and the other administrators had a feeling, the most disagreeable they could imagine, that things were slipping out of their control. No Minister had been any good. The present incumbent ... was the worst of any. Civil servants were used to Ministers who had to be persuaded or bullied into decisions. But they were at a loss when they came across one, who, with extreme cordiality, would neither make a decision nor leave it to them.'
`[N] made it clear that [he] wanted to get out of Whitehall and, perversely, this increased [his] usefulness. Or if not his usefulness, at least the attention they paid to [him], rather like the superstitious veneration with which healthy people listen to someone not long for this earth.'
[If the first rule is]: `always [be] on the spot. Never go away. Never be too proud to be present' [then perhaps the second rule is]: `keep alive'.
The new Minister said `it was worth while making sure of your potential friends ... As a rule you couldn't win over your enemies, but you could lose your friends.'
[The new Minister] `was wearing a morning-coat, grey waistcoat, striped trousers. He was absent-mindedly nervous. [N] had watched him when he was anxious, but in nothing like this state.' [N] then `asked him what was the matter'. When [N] heard the answer, [N] thought he was joking. He was going to the Palace that morning- to have an audience with the Queen, and to be sworn into the Privy Council. [N] had seen dignitaries, industrialists, academics, waiting in the queue at a Palace investiture, with their hands shaking, as though, when the entered into the Presence, they expected some sinister courtier to put out a foot and trip them up.'
`But what the [new DM] had just said was nowhere near his Minister's view, and [he] must have known it. [N] was sure that he did not feel irregular or conspiratorial. This wasn't intrigue, it was almost the reverse. It was part of a process, not entirely conscious, often mysterious to those taking part in it and sometimes to them above all, which had no name, but which might be labelled the formation, or crystallization, of `official' opinion. This official opinion was expected to filter back to the politicians, so that out of the to-ing and fro-ing a decision would emerge. Who had the power? [This] was the question that had struck me ... Perhaps it was a question without meaning-either way, the slick answers were wrong.'
`It was absurd to suppose that the [old DM] could be bought by dinner and a ticket to the opera. It was absurd to suppose that [he] could be bought by any money under Heaven: it was like trying to slip Robespierre a five-pound note. And yet, though he could not have wanted to, he has accepted this invitation. [N] remembered the instructions he used to give [N] during the war: that a civil servant ought not to be too finicky about accepting hospitality, but should take it if he felt it natural to do so, and if not, not.'
`To an outsider, it would have sounded gross, the flattery squeezed out like toothpaste. [N's] own fear was, not that [the Minister] was overdoing it, but that he was not doing it enough. [The industrialist] was one of the ablest men, and certainly one of the most effective, that [N] had ever known. He was tough, shrewd, curiously imaginative, and for his own purposes a first-rate judge of men. But none of that, none of it at all, conflicted with a vanity so overwhelming that no one quite believed it. In days past when he had paid [N] as a legal consultant, [N] used to hear his own staff chanting his praises like so many cherubim; yet even they, [the industrialist] felt, missed important points in his character and achievements. ... Among [N's] most gifted acquaintances, [the industrialist] liked flattery more than the others - but not all that much more.'
`Like other vain and robust men, [this other former Minister] had no capacity for forgiveness whatsoever.'
`[N] had known the [old DM] for nearly twenty years. In all that time, [N] had not heard him pass a judgement on any of his equals. Not that he did not make them-but keeping them quiet was part of the disciplined life. [N] had known for years that he probably disliked, and certainly envied [the new DM]. He knew that [N] knew.'
`Speeches. A long, and a very bad one, by the chairman of an insurance company. [N] drank another glass of port. A short and very bad one by [the industrialist], who sat down among the dutiful plaudits as though he both expected them and was impervious. ... The Minister [in his speech that followed started in his own voice but] had to break into official language ... But soon he was talking in his own voice again. That was the knack-it was more than a knack, it was a quality which had drawn some of us to him-which held his audience. The hall was quiet. ... [The Minister] had been speaking for ten minutes, and he continued for as long again. In the whole of the second half of his speech, he went off again into official language, the cryptic, encyclical language of a Minister of the Crown. The effect was odd, but [N was] sure that it was calculated. He had tried them deep enough: now was the time to reassure them. They would be glad of platitudes, and he was ready to oblige them.'
`Then [N] realized that [the new DM] had taken charge. He was speaking with complete authority. Because he was so unpretentious, so fresh, lean and juvenile in appearance, one fell into the trap of thinking him light- weight. He was no more light- weight than [the industrialist] or [the old DM].'
`The occasion was the visit of some western Foreign Minister. The politicians and their wives were there, the Civil Servants and their wives. The politician's wives were more expensively dressed than the Civil Servants', and in general more spectacular. On the other hand, the Civil Servants themselves were more spectacular than the politicians, so that a stranger might have thought them a more splendiferous race. With their white ties, they were wearing their crosses, medals and sashes, and the figure of [the old DM], usually subfusc, shone and sparkled, more ornamented, more be-sashed, than that of anyone in the room.'
`[The old Minister] was an aristocrat, and it was part of his manner to appear like a bumbling amateur. He was as much an amateur as one of the Irish manipulators of the American Democratic machine. [He] had a passion for politics. Like most devoted politicians, he was realistic about everything in them- except his own chances. He had been sacked, politely but firmly [several years before] at the age of seventy-four. Everyone but himself knew it was the end. But he delayed taking his peerage, still hoping another Conservative government would call him back. New Conservative governments came, but still the telephone did not ring. At last, at eighty-four, he accepted his Viscounty [but] even then going around asking friends whether, when the P.M. went, there mightn't be the chance of one more job.'
[The old DM] said `Our masters appear to be about to sanction what I must say is an unusually sensible White Paper. It's going to Cabinet next week. It's a compromise, of course, but it has some good points. Whether our masters stick to those when they get under shot and shell-that's quite another matter.'
`There was an hallucination about high places which acted like alcohol, not only on [the Minister] under threat, but on whole circles. They couldn't believe they had lost the power till it had gone. Even when it had gone, they didn't always believe it.'
`There was no side-talk around the table. Everyone was attending. Everyone knew the language. This meant that in formal terms, the Government was not backing down. This was the maximum show of pressure on its party. It could do no more.'
`Lord A.- himself made a Delphic speech, in which he stated his suspicions of the Government's intentions and his determination to vote for them.'
`[The Prime Minister] came in [to the reception], did not stay long, but found time to talk modestly, unobtrusively, to his hostess. As Prime Minister he might be busy, but he was teaching some lessons to men who thought him commonplace. One was, never make enemies if you can help it, and above all, never make enemies by neglect.'
`[The famous Cambridge scientist] joined us [at the reception but he] wasn't with [our side] any more. He had given up. Not that he had changed his opinions: but he could not endure another struggle. He had retired to his house in Cambridge and to his research. Already, that evening, he had talked about a new idea with as much excitement as when he was young. Defeat can cut into friendships, [N] was thinking, as much as being on different sides. [He] and [N] had been intimate for thirty years. Yet part of the spontaneity had to go .... It was a tiny price to pay for having gone through the struggle: but still, it was a price.'
`[The scientist in the House of Lords] whose politeness had always been stylised, had taken with gusto to the singular stylisation of that chamber. In his speech he was passing stately compliments across the floor to `the noble Lord, Lord Ampleforth'. One needed a little inside information to realise that Lord Ampleforth, who was something like [his] opposite number on the Tory side, was a man with whom [he] had not agreed on a single issue since the beginning of the war; or that [he] was now telling his own government that, in three separate fields, the exact opposite of Lord Ampleforth's policies ought to be their first priority.'
`He knew, just as [N] knew, ... how little a minister could do.'
`[The now retired old DM said] 'I think you will agree that the general level of our former colleagues was, judged by the low standard of the human race, distinctly high. That is, granted their terms of reference, which may, I need hardly say, be completely wrong, a good many of them were singularly competent. Far more competent than our political masters. ... Incidentally, out of proportion more competent that the businessmen that it was my misfortune to have to do official business with.' '
`Politicians, [the old former Minister] used to say, were the worst keepers of secrets. They will talk to their wives, he added with Polonian wisdom. He might have said, just as accurately, they will talk to journalists: and the habit seem to be hooking them more every year, like the addiction to a moderately harmless drug.'
`... it was time for bed, the telephone rang. ... Apologies, the sharp civil servant's apologies [N had heard before] ... Could [N] come at once? ... It all sounded strangely, and untypically, conspiratorial. ... Later [N] recalled being told about [the Government's concern about] `hawking the job around': they were taking precautions against another visitor being spotted: hence presumably this Muscovite hour, hence the eccentric route.'
` Reasons against [accepting the Ministry] - they were the same as [before for the old scientist], and perhaps by this time a shade stronger. He had said that he couldn't do much good-or any-good. [N] was convinced of that as he was, whoever did the job: more so because [N] had lived inside the government apparatus, as [the old scientist] had never done. That hadn't made [N] cynical (for cynicism came only to those who were certain they were superior to less splendid mortals): but it had made [N] a Tolstoyan, or at least sceptical of the effect that any man could have, not just a junior minister, but anyone who really seemed to possess the power, by contrast to the tidal flow in which he lived.'
`[The retired old DM] asked which department this `supernumerary minister' [would] be attached to? ... `As you know, I always found the arrangements that the last lot [the previous government] made somewhat difficult to justify in terms of reason. I can't help thinking [the new government is] even worse, if it is possible, in that respect. ... This Minister would have a small private office, and otherwise would have to rely upon the department? A floating, personal appointment? ... It's very simple. You're not to touch it.'
` [The backbencher said] it is a mistake to go into politics from the outside. It's a mistake for anyone to take a job in the Government unless he's in politics already. A job that people in the Commons would like to have themselves. I beg you to think of that.'
`[The answer to the question in the House of Lords] wasn't a masterpiece of legal drafting: but the civil servant who had to write the official answer would have realised at first sight that it wasn't innocent. [N] could recall similar questions arriving flagged in [his] in-tray in days past: and [the old DM's] glacial and courteous contempt for all the trial shots at the answer, including, though for politeness' sake not mentioned, the most senior, being [N's] own.'
`[It was said of the other scientist] no one had been unluckier, no one of great gifts, that was. If things had gone right, he would have done major scientific work. But all the chances including the war, had run against him. ... After all of which ... he got this curious consolation-prize [of appointment to the House of Lords].'
The entertaining television series Yes Minister and later Yes Prime Minister were widely viewed as a `send up' of much of what has been abstracted above. The more difficult circumstances most governments face at present perhaps provide a chance to think again about some of the wisdom in these passages from another era.
These abstracts cannot be considered complete so random do these passages appear in a very large work of literature and this author would be grateful to have his attention called to interesting sections that have been missed.