Redactio ad absurdum

Yes MinisterThe row over the heavy redaction of the “official” disclosure of MPs’ expenses reminds me of the incident in Yes, Minister, where Sir Humphrey is threatened with the disclosure of errors from his early career that would destroy his prospects for further advancement in the civil service.

The problem is that Jim Hacker has promised to release the papers to the press. How to resolve this problem? Sir Humphrey produces the file of papers to be disclosed, explaining that “this is what we normally say in circumstances such as this.”

The file contains a sheet of paper reading as follows:

This file contains the complete set of available papers except for:

(a) a small number of secret documents;

(b) a few documents which are still part of active files;

(c) some correspondence lost in the floods of 1967;

(d) some records which went astray in the move to London;

(e) other records which went astray when the War Office was incorporated into the Ministry of Defence;

(f) the normal withdrawal of papers whose publication could give grounds for an action for libel or breach of confidence or cause embarrassment to friendly governments.

As Hacker observes in his diaries, when he looked in the file “there were no papers there at all! Completely empty.”

And if you’re still labouring under the delusion that Yes, Minister was a comedy, as opposed to a gritty documentary-drama, check out the list of matters which are stated to have been redacted from MPs’ expense records. If they’d been able to organise a flood in time, they would have done.

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One Response to Redactio ad absurdum

  1. I don’t follow British Politics very well. Being an American I think you are hopelessly lost anyway. However, PBS used to carry “Yes, Minister” and I thought it was a documentary on all government anywhere. Could even apply it to church government if you wanted to.

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