PM urged to give Lib Dems more political advisers

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Indy Politics

David Cameron is under pressure to backtrack by appointing more political advisers to bolster the position of Nick Clegg and other Liberal Democrat ministers.

Before this year's election, the Conservative Party pledged to cut the number of special advisers – party political aides funded by taxpayers – after their work attracted controversy under Labour. Their ranks have been cut from about 78 to 68 since May.

A report published today by the Institute for Government, a think-tank with close links to Whitehall, argues that their numbers should be restored to pre-election levels to allay fears that Mr Clegg and his Liberal Democrat colleagues are being overstretched in the Coalition.

It also proposes that Mr Clegg is given more civil servants to help him carry out his role as Deputy Prime Minister, and that he should head a "branded" department with its own identity and website.

The analysis of how the Coalition is working chimes with the private views of some senior Liberal Democrats. Although the personal relationship between Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron is strong, some Liberal Democrats fear their party lacks clout in Whitehall departments.

Today's study notes that the Cameron-Clegg "dual leadership" has been imposed on a Whitehall system designed for a government led by one person. Although there are five Liberal Democrat ministers including Mr Clegg in the Cabinet, they do not run big spending departments, it points out. The 14 Liberal Democrat ministers outside the Cabinet have a "heavy burden" as they represent their party's interests across all policy areas in their departments, well beyond their personal brief.

Meanwhile, the report says Mr Cameron should appoint a Liberal Democrat minister to those departments which do not have one: Culture, International Development and Environment.

Danny Alexander, the Chief Treasury Secretary, is described as "stretched" in the report. As well as overseeing the government-wide spending review, he is also the Liberal Democrats' policy supremo.

Mr Clegg has about 60 staff working on constitutional and political reform, but he is trying to cover 90 per cent of the Prime Minister's remit with less than half the back-up.

The call for more special advisers gives Mr Cameron a dilemma because of his election pledge to cut their numbers. The Liberal Democrats are believed to be sympathetic to the idea. Officially, government sources said the study was independent and that its proposals would be examined in the normal way.

The report suggests that, far from the Coalition being a one-off, partnership governments in Britain may become more common as the combined share of the vote won by the Tories and Labour decreases. The Whitehall machinery should be overhauled to reflect this, it argues.

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