A Victory for Democracy

A Victory for Democracy

Infobox UK Television Episode
Title = A Victory for Democracy
Series name = Yes, Prime Minister

Caption = Episode title card
Series no = 1
Episode = 6
Airdate = 13 February 1986
Writer = Antony Jay
Jonathan Lynn
Producer = Sydney Lotterby
Director =
Guests = Clive Francis
Donald Pickering
Episode list = List of "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" episodes
Prev = A Real Partnership
Next = The Bishop’s Gambit

“A Victory for Democracy” is the sixth episode of the BBC comedy series "Yes, Prime Minister" and was first broadcast 13 February 1986.


Jim Hacker has been criticised by the American ambassador over Britain’s proposed defence policy, which involves the cancellation of Trident. In addition, it was mentioned to the Prime Minister that there was a problem with St. George’s Island (situated in the Indian Ocean, but within the Commonwealth). The US is concerned that it could be subject to a Communist takeover, and the ambassador threatened various sanctions if this takes place. The PM is to meet the Foreign Secretary to discuss it.

Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Cabinet Secretary, is meeting with Sir Richard Wharton, Permanent Secretary to the Foreign Office. The latter is troubled that the PM is starting to distrust civil service advice and is beginning to formulate his own foreign policy, with an eye to keeping the White House happy. Sir Richard fills Sir Humphrey in on the St. George’s difficulties, and informs him that as the potential "coup d’état" could be executed by a group of Soviet- and Libyan-backed Marxist guerrillas with assistance from East Yemen, the Foreign Office wishes to steer well clear of the situation. Sir Richard also warns Sir Humphrey of a United Nations motion by the Arabs, condemning Israel. Ordinarily, the UK would vote alongside them, but Hacker is apparently planning to rock the boat.

The PM meets with his Foreign Secretary. It transpires that both are in the dark over St. George’s Island and Hacker instructs the Minister to start asking questions of his officials. As regards the UN vote, the PM wishes to side with the Americans and abstain. However, the Foreign Secretary advises against this, as “the Foreign Office wouldn’t wear it.”

Later on, Hacker summons Sir Humphrey to the Cabinet Room and confesses that he is worried. He tells him that he needs to keep in with the Americans if he is going to cancel his defence order, and that Britain should be ready to defend St. George’s Island if the need arises. Sir Humphrey agrees with him that foreign affairs are a complicated business…which is why they are usually left to the Foreign Office. When Hacker asks if Britain should always support law and justice, the Cabinet Secretary replies in the affirmative—as long as it doesn’t affect the government’s foreign policy. All he can recommend is that the PM talks to his Foreign Secetary. Since nobody seems particularly sure where St. George’s Island actually is, Bernard suggests that he and the PM consult the globe in the Private Office. While they do, an obsequious civil servant named Luke takes an interest. Bernard convinces Hacker to continue their conversation back in the Cabinet Room. He warns the PM that Luke is a Foreign Office official, and is therefore its “man in Number 10” and is not to be trusted. Bernard also (eventually) makes it clear that there are plenty of things that the Foreign Office keeps from the PM.

Sir Humphrey and Sir Richard once again meet in the Cabinet Office. Bernard joins them and asks what it is that the PM doesn’t know. Sir Humphrey admits that he hardly knows where to begin, but in respect of foreign policy, it is undesirable for politicians to become involved. This is apparently largely due to their ignorance, and he and Sir Richard engage Bernard in a geography quiz. Since he is unable to answer a single question, Sir Humphrey advises that he should stand for Parliament. The two mandarins point out that as far as the public is concerned, foreign policy comes down to knowing the “goodies” from the “baddies,” and since sometimes the government has to deal commercially with the latter, such information is kept inside the Foreign Office, with its own policy communicated to the Foreign Secretary for outside consumption. They are interrupted by a telegram, stating that East Yemen is about to invade St. George’s in support of the guerrillas. Sir Richard is adamant that Britain will give the island “every support, short of help,” much to Bernard’s disgust. Sir Humphrey accuses the Principal Private Secretary of “acting like a politician.”

Meanwhile, Luke delivers the PM’s Foreign Office red boxes. He persuades Hacker that the troop movements in East Yemen are nothing to worry about. However, Hacker is enraged that the Foreign Office has ignored his instructions and voted against Israel at the UN. Luke protests that there were developments that couldn’t be communicated in time, so they took the advice of Britain’s UN ambassador instead. Nevertheless, Hacker wishes to see the Israeli ambassador. When Luke’s counsel is tantamount to a refusal, the PM has to resort to giving him private reasons to ensure his co-operation.

Hacker meets the Israeli ambassador at his flat. The PM is told not to worry over the UN vote, as such things are par for the course. However, the ambassador does have news for Hacker from Israeli intelligence that East Yemen is poised to invade St. George’s Island. In addition, the Americans are ready to support the islanders in battle. Hacker is horrified that he knows nothing about it, but eventually finds an FO assessment buried in one of his red boxes. The ambassador offers Hacker some advice. Britain has an airborne battalion in Germany: if it is diverted to St. George’s, then East Yemen will be unlikely to invade. The PM arranges for it to make a “goodwill visit.”

The next morning, Sir Humphrey chides the PM for his action, telling him that it may be construed as “provocative.” Luke arrives with the Foreign Office telegrams, and Hacker is praised for his intervention. Sir Humphrey is unimpressed, and demands to know where the idea came from. The PM tells him that it came from Luke, contained within his “masterly situation report.” Hacker rewards the distraught civil servant with a posting as Britain’s ambassador to Israel.

Episode cast


cquote2|Bernard: 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 Foreign Office know that they know that they are keeping from you so that you don’t know and they do know and, all we know, there is something we don’t know and we want to know. We don’t know what because we don’t know. Is that it?
Hacker: May "I" clarify the question? Who knows Foreign Office secrets, apart from the Foreign Office?
Bernard: That’s easy. Only the Kremlin.

Satirical reference

* This episode was inspired by the 1983 invasion of Grenada, a Commonwealth Realm, by the USA. The name of the fictional St. George’s Island derives from St. George’s, the capital of Grenada.

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