Yes Minister: hilarious, truthful, too good to be true.

Here at Troppo we have referred to the ‘Yes Minister series’ many times because of its brilliant commentary on the timeless issues of government, exemplified in the skit above. I have gone through three phases with the series: when it first aired in the 1980s, I was a teenager and thought it was a brilliant and humorous satire, depicting a grossly exaggerated view of how naive politicians were and how powerful the bureaucrats. I was laughing because I thought things were not that bad.

In my early 30s and after a few years in Canberra, I reached a different view. I thought the series depicted a world that was roughly true, with more or less amateur politicians controlled by civil servants who were a bit up themselves and elitist but at least had a joint mission and kept the lobbyists at bay.

In the last 5 years I have reached yet another take on the series: if only things were this good! If only we had such a united group at the heart of the state system that was looking out for a shared notion of the public good! I now look at sir Humphrey and think of how we can create more of him and put them in charge, rather than how to stop them. In my estimation, he has gone from evil villain to utopian hero!

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12 Responses to Yes Minister: hilarious, truthful, too good to be true.

  1. Nicholas Gruen says:

    Fairly like my take here

  2. conrad says:

    It’s hard to think of another series that has aged so well. If I think of other classics of the time, some are just cringe worthy now (like the Young Ones).

  3. Jim says:

    Pure reality TV gold….

    I worked in the private sector for a few years before my first public service job in a state treasury in the mid 1990s. In my first week I asked my boss about how the decision making process really worked. He came in the next day with a bunch of video tapes of yes Minister and simple said “watch these and you will get it….”

  4. Tim Macknay says:

    Yes, it’s often said of Yes Minister that, if at the time of its production the political balance of power weighed too heavily in favour of bureaucrats as against elected politicians, the balance has now swung too far the other way. I think this observation is true.

  5. Peter Johnson says:

    It is demonstrably evident that for a long time ‘obedient’ politicians of main parties in many nations are straight-jacketed by rigorous pre-selection into NOT really representing the wishes of the average elector/family but instead tell them the Party alone knows best! What a load of cobblers! The standard of intelligence reflected by the pathetic and puerile shouting down of opponents in parliament to try to ‘score’ some media exposure surely evidences the sad decline of ‘representative politicians’ . . . the more ‘sensible independents’ elected the better . . .

  6. I am and will always be Not Trampis says:

    I am reminded of the tale of when Malcolm Fraser was in hospital and some ministers and public servants turned up ans this wonderful program was on the TV. The Ministers and Public servants laughed at different stages of the program NOT at the same time!

  7. Peter WARWICK says:

    Yes, like Paul, the messages for me from Yes Minister kept changing. But the one that distilled it for me was “Never hold an inquiry, unless you know the outcome first”.

    After 20 years in Oz Defence, I came to understand at about the 10th year “how the system works”. Getting things done was about knowing the people (including who to avoid), the paths, the ways and means, the tricks, the techniques etc. Above all, it was knowing the people – who was a pushover, who was a barrier, who was a stickler for absolute accuracy and compliance etc.

  8. L.M. Edwards says:

    The key comparison here is between ‘Yes Minister’ and ‘The Hollowmen’. Both brilliant shows, but they depict very different political systems. The centre of power has shifted from the entrenched interests being the bureaucracy to them now being the lobbyists.
    It is not an improvement.

    • paul frijters says:

      totally, though it is not just the civil servants that have become the lobbyists. The senior former politicians too. And that is something we should not forgive so easily. We can and should go after them for betraying the population. And we should put pressure on the political parties to stop their members from doing this and to shame all those who have. That is where I think the logical move in our political system is, and the politicians will, I suspect, create total havoc to prevent that conclusion from becoming mainstream. In that sense, we are again in the 1920s, right here in Australia. In the US we can already see this dynamic more clearly.

  9. Nicholas Gruen says:

    The world has also changed a lot as I suggested in the post I linked to above.

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