Disclaimer: Nothing that you recognise belongs to me. And I have absolutely nothing against the Foreign Secretary or the Ministry of Defence...
If Jim Hacker were around today, in government today... what a thought! No political comment on anyone mentioned or referenced is intended, so please don't think this is some sort of anti-Labour, anti-Tory, or anti-Lib Dem piece. It's just a bit of fun!
“You wanted to see me, Sir Humphrey?” Bernard Woolley stepped into the large, luxuriously furnished office of the Permanent Secretary for Administrative Affairs. He couldn’t think why he’d been summoned: the Minister had been behaving himself, doing his boxes and had even accepted the re-drafted draft of his paper without complaint.
“Ah, Bernard, do come in. Can I offer you a drink? Sherry, perhaps?” Sir Humphrey Appleby was a tall, slim, urbane man. Dressed as always in an expensively tailored grey suit, he was the archetypal senior civil servant. Bernard always felt awkward and slow around him.
“Thank you.” He waited until he had been given a glass before he asked, “What’s the matter?”
“Bernard! Whoever said there was anything wrong? I simply wanted to make sure that you were happy in your work.” He took a sip of sherry. “But since you mention it, there is something you can do for me.”I thought there would be,
Bernard thought glumly. “Yes?”
“What’s the Minister’s diary like over the next week?”
Bernard opened the diary he carried everywhere. “This is a busy week. He’s in the House this afternoon for the debate on renewable energy. Tuesday, he’s at the CBI in the morning, giving a speech, then at the Olympic Planning meeting in the afternoon. Wednesday, he has the Select Committee in the morning, and the House for Prime Minister’s Questions, then he travels back to his constituency for a party dinner. He’s in the constituency the next day, holding a surgery, opening a new hospital wing and visiting a school. He’s taking Friday off.”
“You’re letting him take a day off?” Sir Humphrey asked, outraged.
“It’s his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary,” Bernard explained apologetically. “And Mrs Hacker was very, um, firm.”
“It’s a dangerous precedent, Bernard. Soon he’ll be asking us to keep his weekends free! Free time means the Minister can come up with policy ideas, and we don’t want or need his input!” He paused, suddenly thoughtful, “Still, it might be for the best this time. You and I will be a very important, very private meeting this week. I’ll arrange it for Friday afternoon. Let me be clear, Bernard: the Minister is not
“Er, right. What’s the meeting about?”
“Need to know, Bernard,” Sir Humphrey said mysteriously, tapping the side of his nose. “Need to know.”
“But if I’m going to the meeting, don’t I need to know?”
“No. You only need to know that I know.”
Rupert Giles stared at the pile of legal documents in front of him and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to ward off a tension headache. Having always thought of Quentin Travers as an officious, pedantic bore with no idea of what life was like on a Hellmouth, he had learned that a pedantic bore was necessary to run an organisation as archaic and widespread as the Watcher’s Council. The sheer scale of the paperwork was daunting. And now that Slayers were spread all over the globe, the logistics had become staggeringly complex. And he had just been informed by Jean Maddison, the secretary who had luckily been on her annual holiday when the old Council died, that he had to re-sign the Statute of Silence with the British Crown, an agreement that brought the Watchers under the direct protection of the monarch, and which, if nothing else, exempted them from paying taxes.
“Who do I need to speak to on this, Jean?” Giles had learned quickly that there was nothing about Council business that Jean did not know. It was Jean who had provided access to the accounts, to the pensions and to the archives.
“It’s always a senior civil servant. This year, the Cabinet Secretary has asked Sir Humphrey Appleby to deal with this,” Jean answered in her light, Scottish brogue. “He’s from the Department of Administrative Affairs.”
“So I just need to show up and sign the document?”
“That’s the basic idea.”
“This happens every ten years?”
“Oh yes, since King Charles II in 1661,” Jean told him.
“Ah yes, the death toll had been particularly high during the Puritan period,” Giles recalled. “Cromwell banned any talk of vampires.”
“The meeting is this Friday afternoon, at the Department, and you’ll need this.” Jean handed him an expensive bottle of Scotch.
“Good gracious, no! This simply makes everything go a little easier.”
“Oh.” Giles sighed. “And I have to go to them?”
“That’s how it’s done,” Jean confirmed and Giles decided that Buffy had her priorities right. Sometimes tradition could go too far.
“Rupert Giles has arrived, Sir Humphrey,” Mrs Tyler told him, poking her head around the door to the Minister’s office, which he had decided to use, as it felt more fitting. “Shall I show him up?”
Sir Humphrey studied Rupert Giles with great interest when he came in. Tall and spare, he was dressed smartly, if a little shabbily for Sir Humphrey’s tastes, in a tweed jacket that the civil servant’s eyes noted as being in the Rugby tweed colours. Greying dark hair was cut short, and he walked with a slight stoop, but his eyes were sharp behind circular framed glasses and he was studying Sir Humphrey with equal interest.
“I had you down as a Harrovian, not a Rugbeian,” Sir Humphrey said, gesturing to one of the comfortable armchairs by the fire place.
“I beg your pardon?” Giles frowned at him.
“The jacket. Your tweed is in the Rugby School pattern,” Sir Humphrey explained.
“Ah. I’m afraid I simply liked the jacket,” Giles admitted with a rueful smile. “I went to a local grammar school.”
“Oh. Such a shame,” Sir Humphrey said with a sad shake of his head. “Wonderful schools, both of them. Ah, Bernard, there you are!” Bernard appeared bearing a tray of hot drinks and an armful of papers. “Splendid! Now, Mr Giles, milk and sugar?”
Giles watched, a little bemused, as the two civil servants poured out three cups of tea and handed around milk and sugar, before finally sitting down. In an effort to make idle small talk, he said, “So is Mrs Tyler your under-secretary?”
Sir Humphrey stared at him in obvious bemusement. “I am the Permanent Under-Secretary. Bernard here is the Principal Private Secretary. We each have private secretaries and principal secretaries working for us.”
“And Mrs Tyler is…?”
“The secretary.” Sir Humphrey allowed himself a brief smile. “She does the typing.”
“Of course.” Buffy would be rolling on the floor with laughter, Giles knew, if she could see him now. Then again, so would Willow, Xander and Dawn. And justifiably so. “So, um, the Statute?”
“Ah, straight to the heart of the matter. No shilly-shallying, no dallying. One can tell you have spent a lot of time across the water in the Americas.” Sir Humphrey looked a little put out. “But I suppose that we must move on. Time is money, after all.”
“Er, yes, I suppose so.” Giles tried not to look amused at the old fashioned language used by the civil servant.
“Now, the Statute really is a remarkable piece of legislation,” Sir Humphrey said, leaning back in his seat and steepling his fingers. “Written in 1660, reputedly by Colonel Thomas Blood, after he had had a nasty surprise one night in an alleyway. Still, he was rescued by the Slayer at the time, and it resulted in centuries of cooperation.”
“Colonel Blood? I’ve heard of him,” Giles said with a slight frown.
“Yes, yes, he did try to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London,” Sir Humphrey explained with a wave of one hand. “But a good chap. A good bureaucrat for all that. Understood the way things worked, then and now, and was able to make sure that the whole Slayer business was kept strictly out of the hands of politicians.” He shuddered at the thought. “Can you imagine if the Prime Minister had ever known?”
“Which one?” Giles frowned, thrown by the comment.
“Any of them! Good God, man, they’re all as bad as each other. Why, we’d have had centuries of argument about whether it was probative to release information about vampires to the nation! And we simply couldn’t have that. No, that wouldn’t work at all. They would have wanted to make policy about it, endless new policies! Politicians,” he said with a confidential air, “always seem to think that they are in charge.” Sir Humphrey shook his head sadly.
“And they’re not?” Giles said, hiding a smile.
“Good Heavens, no! You only have to look at some of the disasters over the last few years to see what happens when someone lets a politician make policy! Far better for all concerned if they do what they’re told, and open a few hospital wings, shake hands, that sort of thing. Far better.”
Unable to help himself, Giles asked, “But don’t we elect politicians to run the country?”
Sir Humphrey stared at him in unalloyed horror. “Run the country? Politicians run the country? Mr Giles, really! I realise that you have spent time in America, perhaps too much time if you think that elections actually matter! They’re simply a useful exercise that keeps everybody amused and otherwise occupied; leaving us free to make sure that the country actually works!”
Giles stared at the other man, aware that Bernard was standing just behind Sir Humphrey, looking sheepish and awkward. The man honestly seemed to believe that civil servants were in charge and that politicians were nothing more than an occupational hazard. Given some of the politicians that Giles had come across, he considered, beginning to smile wryly, Sir Humphrey may have a point.
Bernard, however, had other things on his mind. “V-vampires, Sir Humphrey?”
Sir Humphrey looked down his nose at the younger man, a feat which impressed Giles as the older civil servant was sitting down and Bernard standing above him. Sir Humphrey still managed to give the impression on looking down on Bernard and Giles resolved to practice that look in the mirror for later use. “Bernard, please. Must you ask foolish questions? The existence, or not, of vampires is hardly the pressing matter here. The main point is that Mr Giles and I have business that is of the utmost importance to Her Majesty’s Government and that, as such, must be kept at all costs from the knowledge of Her Majesty’s politicians. Really, Bernard, don’t you ever pay attention?”
“But v-vampires, Sir Humphrey?” Bernard looked and sounded shell-shocked.
“Ber-nard,” Sir Humphrey drawled disappointedly, drawing out the two syllables patronisingly. “You’ve met the Foreign Secretary. Are vampires really that much of a shock?”
“Well, I, I mean that, what I mean to say,” Bernard stuttered until Giles took pity on him.
“It’s always a bit of a shock,” he said sympathetically. “If it helps, just remember that there are people out there who will deal with them for you. Just call.” He handed over a business card.
“The International Council of Watchers and Slayers?” Bernard read. “Vampire hunters have an organisation?”
“Bernard, everything needs an organisation,” Sir Humphrey said disparagingly. “Although I’m not sure I like the addition of the word ‘international’. The next thing you know, the UN will want to be involved and we can do without that
“Well, we are international now,” Giles pointed out. He chanced a discreet glance at his watch – were they ever going to get around to signing the Statute?
“Still, it gives a worrying impression that other nations might have some sort of sovereignty here. Are you sure we cannot persuade you to go back to the original name?”
“No, we’re quite happy with it as it is.”
“Hmm.” And Giles got the impression that he had just disappointed Sir Humphrey.
“Shall we get on?” he prompted the civil servants and they both looked at blankly. “With signing the Statute?”
“Oh. Yes, yes, I suppose.” Sir Humphrey waved at Bernard and the younger man produced a ream of paper, all covered in closely spaced small print. “I need you to initial each page and sign at the bottom. In triplicate. I shall do the same.”
“One for your records, one for ours and one for Her Majesty.”
“Her Majesty knows about vampires?” Bernard all but squeaked in surprise.
“Bernard, really! You are slow today. Of course Her Majesty is aware. Honestly, the next thing you’ll say is that you are surprised that the recent Royal Wedding was protected by the SAS and SMS as well as the police.”
“SMS?” Giles and Bernard spoke at the same time and Sir Humphrey rolled his eyes.
“I suppose I should be grateful you’ve both heard of the SAS. The SMS, or Special Magical Services, to give them their proper title, are a very small elite group within the army who provide protection to the Monarch and the royal family through magic and spells and such like. I don’t really approve,” he added, his tone reflecting that. “Magic is so difficult to regulate and frankly one can’t help but feel that the Armed Forces do very little to help the Civil Service manage the situation. Something about a budget deficit.”
“You mean the fact that the Ministry of Defence spends more on civil servants’ salaries than on those of the soldiers?” Bernard asked timidly, although Giles thought he saw a glint in his eye that suggested he was winding Sir Humphrey up on purpose.
Whatever Bernard’s motive, Sir Humphrey reacted somewhat predictably. “The Ministry of Defence is not there to provide for the Armed Forces. It is there solely, I repeat solely, to prevent the Defence Minister from doing anything unnecessary.”
“Like starting wars?” Giles asked with a smirk.
“Ministers may start as many wars as they please; it keeps them busy. What they cannot do, what they must not
do, is attempt to interfere with the running of the department. It is simply inconceivable that a Minister should attempt to change the way a department operates. But every single one wants to make policy, make changes. Luckily policy reviews and public consultations do tend to keep them happy, so I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies. Heaven knows what would happen if we let them near the budgets. Before you know it, someone will start talking about streamlining the Civil Service.” Sir Humphrey looked as though someone had suggested that he murder a room full of new-borns.
“And so the SMS stays independent?” Giles wondered how much they knew about Slayers and hoped this wasn’t another Initiative. He made a mental note to look into it further.
“Independent and funded solely by the Crown. There’s no bureaucratic oversight at all!”
“Gosh.” Giles hoped he hid his sarcasm so that it wasn’t too apparent. From the way Bernard’s shoulders started to shake with silent laughter, he doubted he’d succeeded. He picked up a pen. “Shall we sign it then?”
Twenty minutes later, he had cramp in his right hand, but all three copies of the Statute were initialled and signed.
“I’ll get this over to the Palace,” Bernard said, already bundling the papers together before he was distracted by a loud voice from the outer office.
“Honestly, does no one do any work when I’m not here?”
Giles watched in bemusement as both Sir Humphrey and Bernard exchanged horrified looks and Bernard said in an appalled whisper, “The Minister!”
Jim Hacker MP – James Hacker really, but Jim made him sound more like a man of the people - had not had a good week. The Civil Service had once again frustrated his every attempt at reform; his constituents were complaining about the spending cuts and had taken it out of him at his monthly surgery meeting and to cap it all, his wife hadn’t liked the present he bought her for their anniversary.
How was he supposed to know that an in-depth analysis of the first year of the Coalition, written by a noted political commentator – the chief correspondent of the Times in fact – wasn’t what she wanted? He
certainly would have been pleased to get that as a gift.
As a result, Annie had cancelled their restaurant reservation and suggested he might as well go back to work, as that was all he thought about anymore.
And now Sir Humphrey was in his
office, with his
Principal Private Secretary and holding what looked like an important meeting!
“Humphrey, Bernard,” he greeted them jovially, slipping easily into his politician’s smile. Their guest might be a party donor, after all. “Aren’t you going to introduce me? Jim Hacker, please to meet you,” he finished, holding out his hand to his guest.
“Rupert Giles, likewise, Minister.” But he shot a worried glance at the papers that Bernard was clutching tightly.
“Better get those papers filed, Bernard,” Sir Humphrey ordered, in that same maddeningly calm tone he nearly always used. “Filing won’t wait.”
“No, Sir Humphrey,” Bernard said gratefully and turned to flee.
So they didn’t want him to see the papers, eh? Well, Jim Hacker was no fool. “Just a moment, Bernard. I’d like a look at those.”
“Er, well, you see…”
Sir Humphrey cut smoothly across Bernard’s stammering. “Those papers?” He tutted and shook his head. “Hardly important enough to trouble you with, Minister. Merely an administrative function, far too trivial to bother a Minister of your high standing and keen political mind.”
Humphrey only flattered him when he wanted something.
“Humphrey, I insist on seeing those papers.”
“Am I the Minister or not?”
“Of course, Minister.”
“And this is my Ministry, yes?”
“Well, yes, Minister.”
“Then hand me those papers.” Jim had practiced his stern and unyielding glance for just such as occasion. Sir Humphrey gave him a brief, brittle smile and nodded at Bernard, who handed over the papers gingerly. “Thank you. Now, what have we here?” He flicked through them quickly and turned to stare at Rupert Giles.
“You see, Minister, simply an administrative matter,” Sir Humphrey said and Jim turned his disbelieving gaze on him.
You’re telling me that the Civil Service believes vampires are running around the country willy-nilly and are conspiring to cover it up with a bunch of academics, and you think that’s just an administrative matter?!”
“It’s merely a case of signing paperwork, Minister,” Sir Humphrey said, oozing affronted bureaucrat from every pore. “As you said, it is ludicrous to suggest that any of this is based in reality, but tradition is the key to British politics. In fact, if I may, I believe you said something very similar when you were in Opposition. I noted your speech in Hansard as particularly eloquent, almost as eloquent as that on open government.”
“And look how far that got me,” Jim said sharply and was gratified to see Sir Humphrey look a little awkward. But only for a moment.
“Be that as it may, Minister, the point remains that tradition is the bedrock nay the very cornerstone of democracy in this country, and it would be foolhardy and even unwise to risk damaging that tradition, however foolish it might appear to such enlightened minds as you and myself. Minister, tradition is what holds this country together! It is what prevents us from being little more than savages. Where would we be without strawberries and cream at Wimbledon? Without afternoon tea? Without Trooping the Colour? Are you suggesting that we dispense with Her Majesty? After all, that is the logical extension of your argument. If I do not sign this foolish and utterly pointless document, why, we might as well start a republic immediately!”
“Good God, I never said I supported treason!”
“But Minister, you implied it.”
“Minister, it is sad but true that some civil servants do seem to have these trifling superstitions, but that hardly need concern us. No, Minister, you must concentrate on the reform of this department, something that I support wholeheartedly.”
“You do?” Jim asked weakly, baffled as always by Humphrey’s ability to utterly subvert the subject. How he had taken Jim’s interest in some paperwork to be a declaration of treason really was a master class of twisted logic.
He was still trying to work that out, and so he missed the admiring and amused look that Rupert Giles gave Sir Humphrey.
“Of course I support your work, Minister!” Sir Humphrey smiled indulgently. “It is the essence of my very being to work with you. I am your Permanent Secretary, after all.”
“So this really is just an administrative thing?” Jim waved the papers absently. “Nothing to it at all?”
“Minister!” Humphrey was at his most patronising. “Would I lie to you?”
Rupert Giles walked away, glad that chore was done for the next ten years. He had a number of things to think about. One was the existence of the Special Magical Services – that needed some urgent research. The other was a resolve to never, ever get into an argument with Sir Humphrey Appleby. That man made Vengeance Demons look easy to negotiate with.