Power to the People (Yes, Prime Minister)

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"Power to the People"
Yes, Prime Minister episode
Episode no.Series 2
Episode 5
Written byAntony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Produced bySydney Lotterby
Original air date7 January 1988
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"A Conflict of Interest"
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"The Patron of the Arts"
List of Yes Minister and Yes, Prime Minister episodes

"Power to the People" is the thirteenth episode of the BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister and was first broadcast 7 January 1988.


Not for the first time, Jim Hacker is experiencing problems with local government. He bemoans the fact that councillors are elected by 25% of the population, who base their choice on the performance of the national government, and, once installed, spend four years on a "subsidised ego trip". During this time, the Prime Minister argues, everything they do is counterproductive and he gets the blame for it.

One such local representative who is causing him particular grief is Agnes Moorhouse, the leader of Houndsworth Council. She is refusing to abide by the law and provide her residents with an efficient police force on the grounds that the force will not be adequate until 50% of its officers are black. She also wants to restrict police movements, even introducing no-go areas in which they will be banned from entering. Hacker needs her to toe the line, but as it cannot be a political confrontation, he suggests that one of his officials should deal with it. Since Sir Humphrey Appleby is in charge of co-ordinating the security services, the PM gives him the job — and he is alarmed at the prospect.

Sir Humphrey meets with Ms Moorhouse in the Cabinet Office, and his fears are justified. She is extremely combative and more than a match for the Cabinet Secretary's usually suave modus operandi. The councillor has strongly held views on how Britain should be run, which are contrary to everything that Sir Humphrey holds sacred. They include the abolition of Parliament, the courts and the monarchy, and radical reforms to alleviate poverty. She pointedly asks Sir Humphrey the costs of certain everyday items, which he struggles to answer. She suggests that part of his substantial salary goes towards helping the needy, and he is speechless. It becomes clear that undermining the police is just part of a plan to increase violence and bring about revolution.

Hacker is in his upstairs flat in 10 Downing Street with his wife, Annie. He invites over Dorothy Wainwright, his political advisor, as he wishes to hear her views on local government. She counsels a scheme recently put forward by a Professor Marriott, which would give power back to the people by making town halls genuinely accountable. This involves making each councillor responsible for just 200 local residents, which would then lead to a large local council that would report to a smaller executive committee. Councillors would then be in close contact with those that voted for them — and would have to listen to their concerns. The PM is enthused and wishes to proceed with the plan, calling it "Hacker's Reform Bill".

Bernard Woolley visits Sir Humphrey, who wants to know his feelings on Professor Marriott's proposal. Initially, Bernard is all in favour, but his superior soon provides a counter-argument. He maintains that once you start taking power away from the right people (i.e. civil servants like themselves) it can only go to the wrong people (politicians). Furthermore, they will want more of it, eventually leading to regional government. This would be very damaging to the civil service, as the "months of fruitful work" that its officials currently undertake to arrive at "a mature and responsible conclusion" would be reduced to a decision taken over the course of a couple of meetings by "complete amateurs". Bernard remarks that such persons have every right to power in a democracy, but the Cabinet Secretary points out that this is a British democracy, which apparently makes all the difference. In other words, there is a system: "a civilised, aristocratic government machine, tempered by occasional general elections."

Sir Humphrey partakes of a drink with his predecessor, Sir Arnold Robinson, and confesses his fears over Marriott's scheme. Sir Arnold notes that the only thing that drives politicians is their need to be re-elected, and for that they need publicity, fame and glory — all supplied by the civil service. Therefore, one system cannot be reformed without the other. He suggests that Sir Humphrey makes the PM aware of the personal dangers should he continue with the proposal, calling it a "courageous" step.

Back in the Cabinet Office, Sir Humphrey has a second rendezvous with Agnes Moorhouse. He informs her of Hacker's plan for reforming local government, and she is shocked, as she believes that ordinary people are "simple" and would not vote for her policies. She and Sir Humphrey are now of one mind: the PM must be stopped. Sir Humphrey promises to help as long as she stops undermining the local police.

It would appear that they have a lot more in common than they thought: "Oh, Humphrey, you're a great loss to the militant revolution.", "And you, my dear Agnes, are a great loss to the Civil Service."

At Sir Humphrey's insistence, Hacker meets with Professor Marriott, who expands on his original plan. He now proposes that each MP should be obligated to only 500 constituents, thus allowing them true independence from the party machine and enforcing proper accountability. This means that government legislation would only be enacted if voted for by a genuine majority, free of the Whips. Sir Humphrey tells the PM that it would be the most courageous policy he has ever proposed ("courageous" being his most damning epithet: "'controversial' will lose you votes; 'courageous' will lose you the election"). Hacker bids Professor Marriott a swift farewell. There are times when governments have to introduce unpopular but necessary measures and such a scheme would make it impossible.

There is still the question of Agnes Moorhouse, and Sir Humphrey reassures the PM (in a typically loquacious speech) that they have come to an agreement. Hacker then suggests that these reforms would be more suited to the next century, then restating the century after that, when he considers whether or not he will be Prime Minister in the 2000s and beyond.

Episode cast[edit]

Actor Role
Paul Eddington Jim Hacker
Nigel Hawthorne Sir Humphrey Appleby
Derek Fowlds Bernard Woolley
Gwen Taylor Councillor Agnes Moorhouse
Deborah Norton Dorothy Wainwright
John Nettleton Sir Arnold Robinson
Diana Hoddinott Annie Hacker
Jonathan Adams Professor Marriott
Miranda Forbes Secretary

External links[edit]