The government’s special advisers

I led a small team of reporters writing profiles of every government special adviser (spad). It was not an easy task: very early on, a senior spad informed me that he would be telling others not to co-operate, and some believed (erroneously) that providing information about themselves would breach the government code of special advisers. Yet we persisted because it’s vital that people understand who these advisers are, where they come from, and what expertise they have.

Very little outside the Westminster bubble, it turns out. After profiling many of them, I read through all of our biographies and tallied up the various backgrounds and experiences they had. An astonishing 89% have built their careers in the Westminster bubble. I contrasted this with the backgrounds of Labour’s special advisers (which were profiled in 2009). Only 37% of that cohort had worked for their party HQ, for an MP, or as a spad for another minister. A marked difference.

While they lack experience, spads are becoming more and more valued. Indeed, David Cameron is likely to break his self-imposed cap on the number of spads, and this won’t necessarily lead to opposition from the civil service either. I wrote an analysis piece about the use of special advisers in a coalition, and certainly it seems they are handy at keeping to cogs of government moving.

The full special report is available here.


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