Citizen Action Monitor

Yes Minister: Eighties satirical British sitcom evokes sympathy for Jim Hacker, government minister

In this episode, Hacker discovers that to do the right thing requires that you must not let anybody catch you doing it.

No 1914 Posted by fw, March 19, 2017

“I’ll tell you about government. You must always try to do the right thing. But you must never let anybody catch you trying to do it. Because doing right’s wrong. Right? ….No, the thing about government is principle. And the principle is — you mustn’t rock the boat. Because if you do, all the little consciences will fall out. And you must all hang together, because if you don’t hang together, you’ll all be hanged separately. I’m hanged if I’ll be hanged. You know, politics is about helping others, even if that means helping terrorists. Terrorists are ‘others’, aren’t they? Not us, are they? No. But you must always follow your conscience. But you must know where you’re going. So, you can’t follow your conscience, because it may not be going the same way that you are.”Jim Hacker, Yes Minister fictional character

The above piece of dialog is taken from an episode of Yes Minister, an eighties British sitcom that manages to evoke sympathy for a government cabinet minister – even though it’s only a fictional minister. The series’ brilliant writers work their magic by entangling Cabinet Minister Jim Hacker in quite plausible “damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I-don’t” moral dilemmas.

Below is a 29:43-minute embedded video of the episode titled The Whisky Priest.

But first, for those unfamiliar with this sitcom, here is an excerpt from Wikipedia’s introduction, followed by an excerpt from the beginning of Wikipedia’s entry for this episode, The Whisky Priest.

Yes Minister is a satirical British sitcom written by Sir Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn that was first transmitted by BBC Television between 1980 and 1984. Set principally in the private office of a British Cabinet minister in the fictional Department of Administrative Affairs in Whitehall, Yes Minister follows the ministerial career of the Rt Hon Jim Hacker MP, played by Paul Eddington. His various struggles to formulate and enact legislation or effect departmental changes are opposed by the British Civil Service, in particular his Permanent Secretary, Sir Humphrey Appleby, played by Sir Nigel Hawthorne. His Principal Private Secretary Bernard Woolley, played by Derek Fowlds, is usually caught between the two.

The Whisky Priest — The Right Honorable James Hacker has landed the plum job of Cabinet Minister to the Department of Administration. At last he is in a position of power and can carry out some long-needed reforms – or so he thinks. The plot opens with Jim Hacker and his wife, Annie, at their London flat. The Minister receives a visit from an army officer, Major Saunders, who has some information that he wouldn’t divulge over the phone. Saunders stresses that what he has to say is highly confidential, and that he is telling Hacker on a personal level and not in his capacity as a minister. Saunders goes on to explain that Hacker once wrote an article for Reform, deploring the sale of British arms to foreign despots and dictators. Now, Saunders reveals, computerized bomb detonators are being exported legally from the United Kingdom and being sold to Italian terrorists. He wants Hacker to investigate the matter and take immediate action.

Co-incidentally, this Yes Minister episode was not so dissimilar from the moral dilemma that PM Trudeau faced back in December 2015 over Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The deal was permeated by a double standard in which moral, ethical and democratic principles were trumped by short-term corporate profits and a boost for Canadian jobs.  As well, Trudeau’s promise of government transparency was dealt a blow: More broken promises were soon to follow. Talk about a moral vacuum.

Following The Whisky Priest video is my transcript of the closing scene, beginning at the 26:52-minute mark.

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The Whisky Priest, first broadcast on BBC’s Yes Minister program, December 16, 1982.

TRANSCRIPT of the closing dialog beginning at the 26:52-minute mark

Jim Hacker is at home with his wife, Annie. After a trying day at Whitehall, he has been nursing a bottle of whisky.

Jim – I’ll tell you about government. You must always try to do the right thing. But you must never let anybody catch you trying to do it. Because doing right’s wrong. Right?

Annie — You’ve had enough [to drink] darling.

Jim – There’s still some left in the bottle. No, the thing about government is principle. And the principle is — you mustn’t rock the boat. Because if you do, all the little consciences will fall out. And you must all hang together, because if you don’t hang together, you’ll all be hanged separately. I’m hanged if I’ll be hanged. You know, politics is about helping others, even if that means helping terrorists. Terrorists are ‘others’ aren’t they? Not us, are they? No. But you must always follow your conscience. But you must know where you’re going. So, you can’t follow your conscience, because it may not be going the same way that you are.

[Referring to the bottle of whisky], Empty. Like me. I’m a moral vacuum.

Annie — Cheer up darling. Nothing good ever comes out of Whitehall. You did what you could.

Jim – You don’t really mean that.

Annie — I do.

Jim – No. I’m just like Humphrey and all the rest of them.

Annie — No, that’s certainly not true. He’s lost his sense of right and wrong. You’ve still got yours. It’s just that you don’t use it much. You’re a sort of whisky priest. You do at least know when you’ve done the wrong thing.

Jim – Whisky priest.

Annie — That’s right.

Jim – Good. Let’s open another bottle.

Annie — We haven’t got one.

Jim – [Taking a bottle out of the box of government documents that he has brought home with him] That’s what you think. You said nothing good ever came out of Whitehall. Do you want one?

Annie — Yes Minister.

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This entry was posted on March 19, 2017 by in creative protest, moral & ethical counterpower, political action and tagged , , .
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