Before they were united in coalition, David Cameron and Nick Clegg agreed on one thing, that the Labour government was employing too many special advisers. There is a serious case for having more, not fewer, of these political appointees who serve their ministers without being restricted by civil service rules about impartiality, despite the controversy surrounding some of them, such as Alastair Campbell or Andy Coulson. But Cameron promised to cap their numbers, while Clegg's position was that there should not be any at all, unless their salaries were paid from party funds.
How odd then that a Downing Street notice yesterday revealed that there are 81 special advisers now in post, compared with 74 in 2009. Nick Clegg alone has 14, while David Cameron has 18, two of whom – the spin doctor Craig Oliver and pollster Andrew Cooper – are paid £140,000 a year.
The Government's defence is that the special advisers' total wage bill is £600,000, 10 per cent less than under Gordon Brown. They have more of them, but pay them less.
Shapps quiet over Twitter robot claim
Grant Shapps, the Housing Minister, went very quiet after the Political Scrapbook website accused him of using special software to inflate his Twitter following, as I reported yesterday. My own attempts to contact him failed. Even when Lord Prescott joined in the fun by creating a "grantshappsfollowedme" hashtag on Twitter, there was no reaction from a politician normally so communicative that he is popularly known as the Minister for Daybreak. Then he resurfaced yesterday afternoon, putting jocular replies on Twitter to jokes running at his expense. He even retweeted Prescott's crack that "as Andy Warhol said, in the future everyone will be followed & unfollowed by Grant Shapps". Note that what he did not do was deny using a "robot" to pad his Twitter following.
The Boss: a true health and safety champion
The Right love inventing myths about health and safety, so it's good to see the health and safety professionals getting feisty when they are traduced. Live Nation, promoters of Bruce Springsteen's live concert in Hyde Park, blamed "health and safety" for the event's abrupt termination at 10.30pm on Saturday, a falsehood that Kevin Myers, deputy chief executive of the Health and Safety Executive, and Bruce Springsteen devotee, has not let go unanswered.
"The fans deserve the truth: there are no health and safety issues involved here," he said. "While public events may have licensing conditions dictating when they should end, this is not health and safety and it is disingenuous of Live Nation to say so. It's ironic that this excuse has been used in relation to Bruce Springsteen, who certainly knows what real health and safety is all about – look at the words of 'Factory' from Darkness on the Edge of Town referring to the toll that factory work can take on the health of blue collar workers." Rock on, Kevin.
PM keeps watchdog on short leash
It is not often that MPs decide anything important on the last day before the Commons rises for the long summer break, but yesterday they decided that Sir Alex Allan, the "independent" adviser on ministers' interests, should have more clout. This, unfortunately, makes no difference as David Cameron does not intend to take a blind bit of notice, and doesn't "see the case for changing the remit".
Sir Alex can investigate ministers only when the PM lets him. He was let loose on the Tory chairman, Baroness Warsi, but kept away from the Culture Secretary, Mr Cameron's chum Jeremy Hunt.Reuse content