I’ve always had a fascination for British politics and was recently given a box set of DVD’s of one of my favourite television programmes of all time: Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister. As I began to settle down to watch the hapless Jim Hacker desperately attempting to bridge the gap between the mighty civil service and parliament many things began to occur to me. Between the laughter and commiserate desperation of a show that went to air in the 80’s many of the issues discussed as being topical from that time bore a remarkable resemblance to those of today. Especially when poor old Hacker becomes prime minister. Its never made clear for obvious reasons where his colours lay but it soon becomes blatantly clear that the rhetoric used could quite easily have been taken from any parliamentary debate that one may have heard during the past twenty years.
Indeed, at one point I began to wonder if this series had been written as part of an MP’s training course. It’s an amazing example of life imitating fiction which, when one thinks of the gravity behind the humour, is really quite worrying. They discuss the war between Israel and it’s neighbours, the economic downturn, the influence of the banks, the invasion of countries by despotic rulers, defence budgets, debates over Trident, the expression of a ‘new deal’, disparity in MP’s and civil service pay, the frustration with local authorities…ringing any bells? I thought to myself, ‘You couldn’t make it up!’ yet, a writer of fiction did! The internal politics was just as entertaining as the bigger picture.Could it be possible, for example, that the civil service are the real governors and overseers of government policy? And that the higher the office attained by an MP the less genuine influence they have? Surely, none of this can be true! One would like to think that our politics had move on apace since the 80’s, keeping in line with current circumstances and the shifting sands of public awareness and influence. Apparently not. Since this programme was first aired in February 1980 nothing of any political significance has changed. Certainly our social thinking and the sophistication of society has changed yet sometimes it feels as if our civil service and our entire political infrastructure remain firmly embedded in the past. None of which ogres well for progress, which is why we hear the same arguments by the same sounding political mouthpieces talking about the same issues as they all did back in 1980. Jim Hacker’s exchanges with the media could have come straight from the editorial content of the Today programme or Paxman, and I can’t help but think that because of the inherent political apathy of the British electorate and our need to become animated only at times of crisis, politicians and governments have been allowed to get away with so much of doing the same old thing for such a very long time. Hacker for prime minister I say, at least he managed to resolve most things within the parameters of a thirty-minute episode.