Yes, Prime Minister (1986) s01e06 Episode Script

A Victory For Democracy

I got some frightful pressure from the American ambassador at that drinkies do last night.
- Ah.
- They'd heard about my cancelling Trident.
The American defence industries are big contributors to the President.
- Ah.
- He said we had a big problem in East Yemen.
Ah? Stop saying ''ah'' like that, Bernard.
I'm not your doctor.
- I'm sorry.
- What is this big problem? Ah - Thank you, Bernard.
- I'll try to find out.
- He muttered about St George's Island.
- St George's Island? - Yes.
There IS a St George's Island? - Yes, it's in the Commonwealth.
Ah, I see, yes.
THAT St George's Island.
- He's afraid Communists might try to grab it.
- What did you say? - I'd ask the Foreign Office.
- What did he say? The White House thinks the Foreign Office is full of pinkos.
No, it's not.
Well, not full.
They don't want the Reds to get a strategic base like St George's Island.
He spoke about putting tariffs on British exports to the USA and taxing US investment, causing a run on the pound.
Can't you get the Foreign Secretary to sort it out? After all, they are on our side.
- Who are? - The Americans.
I thought you meant the Foreign Office.
What's the Foreign Office worried about, Dick? The Foreign Secretary eats out of your hand.
- Oh, yes.
Completely house-trained.
- So? The Prime Minister's the problem.
He's starting to mistrust our advice.
- He even questioned Foreign Office policy.
- Surely not! There's even a danger the Cabinet may pursue its own foreign policy.
But that's absurd.
The country can't have two foreign policies! Quite.
And the PM's getting far too keen on keeping the White House happy.
Dear, oh, dear.
So, how can I help? There are a couple of things coming up where he might need guiding.
- One is St George's Island.
- Ah.
Oh, yes, yes, yes.
Remind me, would you, Dick? As you know, it's one of the few islands in the Indian Ocean to stay in the Commonwealth.
Oh, yes, that's right.
It's quite democratic.
Free elections and everything.
But there's a group of Marxist guerrillas in the mountains.
We hear they're planning a coup.
Well, these things will happen.
They're not thinking of starting it on their own.
East Yemen is helping.
- Isn't that a democracy? - People's Democratic Republic of East Yemen.
Oh, I see.
It's a Communist dictatorship.
And the guerrillas are Soviet-backed? Yes, and Libyan-backed.
Obviously, we in the Foreign Office are staying right out of it.
It would only upset a load of frontline African states.
And we don't want to antagonise the Soviets.
And we've just landed a huge contract to build a new St George's airport and harbour.
If we back the wrong side, we may lose it.
We don't mind which side wins, the democrats or the Marxists? Why should we? But you see the problem.
If the PM gets into one of his ghastly patriotic Churchillian moods, he may intervene.
All that pro-British, defending democracy nonsense.
Oh, I know, I know.
He must understand that once you start interfering in the internal squabbles of other countries, you're on a very slippery slope.
Even the Foreign Secretary's grasped that.
Really? So what was the other point? The Arabs have put down a motion at the United Nations condemning Israel.
- Naturally, we'll vote on the Arab side.
- Naturally.
- But I gather the PM wants us to abstain.
- Surely not! Why? Something about the PLO starting it this time, faults on both sides.
Sentimental nonsense.
Sucking up to the Americans, as always.
Just help him to realise that, as far as foreign affairs are concerned, his job is to confine himself to the hospitality and ceremonial role.
I'll do my best, but you know what happens when politicians get into Number 10.
They want their place on the world stage.
People on stages are called actors.
All they're required to do is look plausible, stay sober and say the lines they're given.
Some of them try to make up their own lines.
They don't last long.
The American ambassador had a word with me last night.
- About what? - What do you know about St George's Island? What do YOU know about it? Well, you're the Foreign Secretary, not me! Is there any danger of a Communist takeover? - Well, did he say there was? - He hinted.
No chance at all.
No chance at all.
The Foreign Office would have told me.
- You're sure they always tell you everything? - Well, everything they think I should know.
That's what I'm afraid of.
The Americans are worried and we can't afford to upset them now.
- I'm sure we've got everything under control.
- Chamberlain thought Hitler was under control.
- Ah, well, Chamberlain.
- Eden thought Nasser was under control.
- The F.
doesn't know what it's doing? - No, they don't tell us what they're doing! Absurd.
They give me a full answer to any questions I ask.
- And the ones you don't ask? - Such as? - Such as about St George's Island.
- Ah, well, I don't ask those.
- Well, just ask them.
For me.
All right? - Yes, of course.
But once you interfere in other countries' internal squabbles, you're on a very slippery slope.
Anything else? Yes, I gather we're proposing to vote against Israel in the UN tonight.
Why? - They bombed the PLO.
- The PLO bombed Israel.
- But the Israelis dropped more bombs! - The PLO started it! - No, they didn't.
- It seems to me there are faults on both sides.
- Not according to my advice.
- America is worried.
They want us to abstain.
I don't think we could do that.
The Foreign Office wouldn't wear it.
Are they here to follow our instructions or are we to follow theirs? Now, don't be silly.
Prime Minister, Sir Humphrey's here.
- Prime Minister.
- Humphrey, I'm worried.
Oh, what about, Prime Minister? - About the Americans.
- Well, we're all worried about the Americans.
- Foreign affairs are a complicated business.
- That's why we leave it to the Foreign Office.
I've got to keep in with the Americans if I'm to cancel our defence order.
- Ah.
- I gather that they're worried about us.
Of course they are, but I know how to keep in with them.
- How? - Don't cancel the huge defence order.
No, Humphrey, I'm determined on that, but we mustn't upset them in any other way.
The ambassador mentioned St George's Island.
- Oh, really? - What's going on in that part of the world? What part of the world? That part.
The part where St George's Island is.
What part is that? - I suggest you go and have a look at the map! - No, I do know, Prime Minister.
Then we both know.
The White House is worried it might be taken over by Marxists.
- It's not funny, Humphrey.
- No, indeed.
Rather touching, really.
Prime Minister, once you start interfering in the internal squabbles of other countries, you're on a very slippery slope.
- That's what the Foreign Secretary said.
- Extraordinary.
Then there's the U.
vote on Israel tonight.
The Americans want us to abstain.
It's a question of maintaining our relationship with the Arabs.
The power of Islam.
Oil supplies.
I'm talking about what's right and wrong.
Well, don't let the Foreign Office hear you.
If you insist on an even-handed approach, the Foreign Office might agree to abstaining, so long as you authorise our man there to make a powerful speech attacking Zionism.
Surely we should promote peace, harmony, goodwill.
Well, it would be most unusual.
The U.
is the accepted forum for the expression of international hatred.
- And defending democracy on St George's? - Not if it harms us by upsetting our friends.
Britain should not support law and justice? Of course we should.
We just shouldn't let it affect our foreign policy, that's all.
We must fight for the weak against the strong.
Then send troops to Afghanistan to fight the Russians.
The Russians are too strong.
What was that about law and justice? I want assurances sent to the Prime Minister of St George's Island that Britain will stand by him.
- Discuss this with the Foreign Secretary.
- Thank you, Humphrey.
- Thank you, Prime Minister.
- You've been a great help (!) - Bernard? - Yes, Prime Minister? Where exactly is St George's Island? Um - Shall we look at the globe? - Good idea.
- Good afternoon, Luke.
- Good afternoon, Prime Minister.
Now, where is it? Eh - It's here, in the Arabian Sea.
- Near the Persian Gulf.
The lifeline of the West.
There's Afghanistan, now under Soviet control.
Only 400 miles north of the Arabian Sea.
- If the Soviets ever took Pakistan - Which they wouldn't.
If they did, they'd control the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.
They've always wanted a ''warm water port''.
They wouldn't invade Pakistan.
The Americans have a fleet permanently stationed here.
The Indian Ocean.
Prime Minister, may I have a word abouthome affairs? - Home affairs? - Yes.
- We're discussing foreign affairs.
- No, Prime Minister, it's rather urgent.
- Are you all right, Bernard? - Yes, Prime Minister.
Very well.
Excuse me, Luke.
- What on earth's the matter? - I don't want to be disloyal, but it wasn't a good idea to continue that conversation in front of Luke.
He's your colleague, one of my private secretaries.
What is MI6 up to? - Not that sort of risk.
He works for the F.
- He works for me.
Ehyes, but he's not only your man from the Foreign Office, he's also their man in Number 10.
He's a plant.
- Do you understand? - Yes.
No! - The F.
is keeping something from me? - Yes.
- What? - I don't know.
They're keeping it from me, too.
- Then how do you know? - I don't know.
How do you know if you don't know?! I don't know specifically what, but I do know they always keep everything from everybody.
- It's normal practice.
- Who does know? May I just clarify the question? You are asking who would know what it is that I don't know and you don't know but the F.
know that they keep from you so you don't know and all we know is there is something we don't know and we want to know, but we don't know what because we don't know? Is that it? May I clarify? Who knows Foreign Office secrets apart from the Foreign Office? Oh, that's easy.
Only the Kremlin.
This bother about St George's Island is getting to be a bore.
We made the real mistake giving them their independence.
Wasn't that right? Wind of change and all? Yes, but not that way.
We should have partitioned the island.
Like we did in India, Cyprus and Palestine? And Ireland? Yes, that was our invariable practice with the colonies.
It always worked.
But didn't partition always lead to civil war? - As in India, Cyprus, Palestine and Ireland.
- Yes, but it kept them busy.
Instead of fighting other people, they fought each other.
Yes, rather good.
Saved us having a policy.
- Sir Humphrey? - Yes, Bernard? - Um, Sir Humphrey - Yes, Bernard? - Could I have a word? - Yes, Bernard? - With both of you.
- Yes.
What about? - St George's.
- What now? The PM seems to be completely in the dark.
- Good.
- Excellent.
Anything else? I wonder, is there anything he doesn't know? I hardly know where to begin, Bernard.
- No, I mean anything important.
- He has the Foreign Secretary to tell him.
- He seems to think HE doesn't know either.
- I should hope not! - Are you implying that he ought to know? - Well, he IS the Prime Minister.
Bernard, it's simply too dangerous to let politicians become involved with diplomacy.
Diplomacy is about surviving until the next century.
Politics is about surviving to Friday! There are 157 independent countries in the world.
We've dealt with them for years.
There's hardly an MP who knows anything.
Show them a map of the world, most have a job finding the Isle of Wight.
Surely politicians can't be that ignorant? Very well.
Sit down, Bernard.
- Where is the Upper Volta? - Em - What's the capital of Chad? - Um - What language do they speak in Mali? - Em - Who's the president of Peru? - Um What is the national religion of Cameroon? - Em - Bernard? You should stand for Parliament.
No, what I mean is if it's a democracy, shouldn't people sort of discuss things a bit? - Of course.
Full discussion.
- And have the facts? Of course not! They don't want them.
Facts complicate things.
All the press, the people and their leaders want to know is who are the goodies and baddies.
The interests of Britain nearly always involve doing deals with people they think are baddies.
And not helping the goodies occasionally.
So we avoid discussion of foreign affairs.
Or rather we keep it inside the Foreign Office then we produce one policy for the Foreign Secretary, which is our considered view.
- No options? No alternatives? - None.
- What if he's not satisfied? - If pressed, we look at it again.
- And come up with a different view? - Of course not! The same view.
- What if he demands options? - It's obvious.
The F.
present him with three options, two of which are, in fact, exactly the same.
And the third is totally unacceptable.
Like bombing Warsaw or invading France.
We occasionally encourage the Foreign Secretary to produce his own policy, then we tell him it will inevitably lead to World War Three, perhaps within 48 hours.
- I see.
I'm sorry to appear stupid - Oh, perish the thought, Bernard.
In my experience, ministers are concerned about the effect of policy on domestic opinion.
Our system doesn't seem to allow for that.
Of course not.
We take the global view.
We ask what's best for the world.
Most ministers would ask what will the ''Daily Mail'' say! We can't have foreign policy made by yobbos like Fleet Street editors or backbench MPs! - Or Cabinet ministers.
- Or Cabinet ministers.
We take the right decisions and let them sort out the politics.
- (KNOCKING) - Yes? Yes, come in, Mrs Whitmore.
- Thank you.
- If the Foreign Secretary won't accept this? It's a free country.
He can always resign.
How can you treat the PM like this? After all, St George's IS a democracy! Not for long.
The East Yemen are preparing to invade in support of the Marxist guerrillas.
- That's awful.
- Yes and no.
Moderately bad news for the government of St George's, but very good for the guerrillas.
- What about the islanders? - Bernard, you're reacting like a politician.
- What are we going to do to help them? - Nothing.
- What if St George's appeals to us? - We'll give them every support, short of help.
- What if the Prime Minister insists? - Then we follow the four-stage strategy.
- What's that? - Standard F.
response in a time of crisis.
In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.
Stage two, it may happen, but we should do nothing.
Stage three, maybe we should do something, but there's nothing we CAN do.
Stage four, maybe there was something we could have done, but it's too late now.
Afternoon telegrams, Prime Minister.
Thank you, Luke.
- Where's Bernard? - I think he's with Sir Humphrey.
- Troop movements in East Yemen? - It's not significant.
The American ambassador mentioned it.
Really? I'm surprised he'd heard of it.
- What are they up to? - Just preparing a regular raid on West Yemen.
- Nothing for us to worry about? - Nothing at all.
He said something about St George's, too.
Really? Educated man.
For an American.
- Is there a problem there? - No, no, no.
Just the normal local squabbles.
- He was worried about a Communist takeover.
- Americans always are.
Luke! Have you read this? - We voted against Israel in the U.
last night! - Yes, Prime Minister.
- But I gave express instructions to abstain.
- I think not.
I said I felt very strongly that we should not take sides.
- The Foreign Secretary noted your feeling.
- But did nothing about it! With respect, he did.
He asked our U.
ambassador if we should consider abstaining.
- What did HE do? - He said no.
You mean the Foreign Office can simply ignore the Prime Minister?! Certainly not, Prime Minister.
They take full account of you when coming to their decision, but events move rapidly.
There were important factors in our relationship with the Arabs that were not known to you when you took your view.
We couldn't get through to you in time.
I am on the phone, you know.
It wasn't sufficiently important to wake you.
It was! The White House will do its nut! You could be telephoned before every U.
vote, but there are two or three a night.
- What can I do to reverse this? - Nothing.
That would be most embarrassing.
Once stated, policy can't be retracted.
- I'd like to talk to the Israeli ambassador.
- I think not, Prime Minister.
I want to talk to the Israeli ambassador.
If I may say so, it would be rather unwise.
Luke! Can you hear me? Watch my lips! I want to talk to the Israeli ambassador! Of course, Prime Minister, if that is your wish.
I will contact the Foreign Secretary and then telephone I don't want the Foreign Secretary! Prime Minister, it would be most improper to see him without the Foreign Secretary present.
- Why? What do you think I want to talk about? - Presumably the vote at the U.
- That would be most improper.
- Oh.
My daughter Lucy wishes to spend her next long vacation on a kibbutz.
Or I should say, as she's at the University of Sussex, another kibbutz.
- I see.
- The ambassador and I were at the LSE.
I thought I'd invite him to the flat tonight for a drink.
6 p.
See to it, would you, Luke? - Yes, Prime Minister.
- Thank you.
- Don't be upset, Jim.
It happens all the time.
- I told them to abstain.
It's well known that in the British Foreign Office an instruction from the Prime Minister becomes a request from the Foreign Secretary, a recommendation from the Minister of State and, finally, a suggestion to the ambassador.
If it ever gets that far.
Thank you.
Well, Jim, what are you going to do about St George's? - You know about that? - Obviously.
- Not a serious problem, is it? - Your information must be better than mine.
Mine comes from the Foreign Office.
Israeli Intelligence says that East Yemen are going to invade St George's Island in the next few days.
What?! - So that's the connection.
- Your Foreign Office agreed with East Yemen that they'll make strong diplomatic representations, but do nothing.
- In return, you keep your airport contract.
- There will be uproar! That's only the start.
I happen to know that the Americans are going to support the present St George's government.
- In the U.
N? - No, in battle.
On St George's Island.
An airborne division and the Seventh Fleet.
Invading a Commonwealth country?! The Palace will hit the roof.
And I'll look ridiculous.
- Why didn't they tell me? - They don't trust you.
- Because you trust the Foreign Office.
- Oh, I see.
What can I do about it? Jim, you have an airborne battalion on standby in Germany that is not now needed for the NATO exercise.
- How do you know? - I know.
Now, if you were to send it to St George's Island, it would frighten off East Yemen.
They'd never dare invade.
Of course, it's not for the Israeli ambassador to advise the British Prime Minister.
And he wouldn't take your advice anyway.
Get me the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary.
I wonder why the Foreign Office didn't cover themselves.
Maybe they did.
They gave me several boxes tonight.
I've been through them all except this one.
I wonder if this could be it.
''Northern Indian Ocean Situation Report''.
It's 138 pages.
It must be it.
(TELEPHONE RINGS) Hello? Yes, Ronnie.
I want the president of St George's Island to invite Britain to send an airborne battalion on a goodwill visit.
No, just a friendly gesture.
Yes, at once, please.
Thank you.
He seemed to think that 800 paratroopers was an awful lot to send on a goodwill visit.
No, it's just an awful lot of goodwill.
(TELEPHONE RINGS) Oh, yes, Paul.
You know you have an airborne battalion on standby in Germany? Never mind how I know.
Well, since it's not being used, I want them to fly straight off to St George's Island.
Sort of between Africa and India.
A goodwill visit.
Just showing the flag.
They have been invited.
Leave insix hours.
Yes, an instant goodwill visit.
Tell your press office to announce it at once.
No, no, leave me out of it.
A routine visit.
All right - a routine surprise visit.
Well, say they were invited earlier, but the NATO exercise got in the way.
Now they're not needed, they're going.
All right.
Nobody knows it's not true.
Press statements aren't delivered under oath.
They'll be off at midnight.
- There's an airborne battalion in the air.
- Sounds like the right place for it! - I gather it's on its way to St George's.
- Yes, it should land in two hours' time.
- Isn't this all rather sudden? - I had a sudden friendly impulse.
- I wanted to spread a little goodwill.
- There's not much goodwill in the F.
- Really? Why not? - It might be construed as provocative, sending a fully-armed airborne battalion like that into an explosive situation.
- I thought there was no problem there.
- Ehwell, yes, indeed.
There is no problem, but it's explosive potentially.
- Why? - Moving troops is always potentially explosive.
We move them around Salisbury Plain.
Is that potentially explosive? There are a lot of unexploded shells on Thank you, Bernard.
Do tell me why the Foreign Office is worried.
I'm fascinated.
- It's a sensitive part of the world.
- They always tell me how stable it is.
Well, yes, indeed it isvery, but it's a sort ofunstable sort of stability.
- Excuse me, Sir Humphrey.
- Yes, Luke.
- Foreign Office telegrams.
- Thank you, Luke.
Oh, gosh.
Rather a lot.
Yes, the somewhat unorthodox visit to St George's has stirred things up.
Ah, I see East Yemen is moving its troops back to base.
- Yes, Prime Minister.
- Decided not to invade West Yemen? - So it seems.
- Oh, this is nice.
The Americans are delighted by our visit.
That's good.
Excellent, Prime Minister.
- They're ready if we want reinforcements.
- Reinforcements of what? Reinforcements of goodwill, Humphrey.
May I inquire where the impulse for this little escapade came from? - Of course you may.
It came from Luke.
- Luke?! From me? It was you who put together that masterly Northern Indian Ocean Situation Report? Yes, but it argued for not doing anything.
- Come off it, Luke.
You can't fool me.
- What?! I can read between the lines.
Some politicians have a feeling for foreign affairs.
I knew you meant St George's needed support.
Oh, yes.
Well, no, actually.
Only in one paragraph on page 107.
It was enough.
I can take the hint.
I'm giving you full credit.
I told the Foreign Secretary it was your warning sparked it off.
No, no, it wasn't! You haven't?! And I don't think I'm giving away any secrets when I say you are going to be rewarded.
- Rewarded? - Ambassador at a very important embassy.
- Which embassy? - Tel Aviv.
Oh, my God! You can't send me to Israel.
Think about my career.
Don't be absurd.
It's an honour.
They won't want me.
I'm on the Arab side.
- I thought you were on OUR side.
- Of course, yes, but We need somebody like you in Tel Aviv to explain why we always vote against them.
Don't we, Humphrey? Yes, Prime Minister.

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