Susie Rushton: Why political adviser is the coolest job in town

Notebook: Despite the existence of significant female aides in real life, in fiction the dedicated right-hand is usually a man

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If there were any doubt that the role of the political aide had become one of the sexiest jobs of our time, Ryan Gosling has put paid to that in his latest film, The Ides of March, a George Clooney-directed thriller that explores backroom machinations on the campaign trail in America. Poised, slick in his suits and dashing, Gosling's ambitious young spin doctor is cleverer than the politician he works for, and makes the girls on the campaign bus swoon.

"You're a player," purrs a blonde intern, acted by the delectable Evan Rachel Wood. You'd think the guy was a rock star, not a political nerd looking for the next chance to fling mud at the opposing camp. The Ides of March isn't the first time we've seen the shadowy political adviser given such a glamorous makeover – just the most complete.

Over the past decade, shows like The West Wing and The Thick of It have conspired to show us the aide as complex, witty and extremely clever – but a bit crumpled, somewhat out of shape, not the type to pull a 20-year-old intern.

Despite the existence of significant female aides in real life (the infamous Jo Moore, Tony Blair's Anji Hunter), in fiction the dedicated right-hand is usually a man. In The Ides of March there is a telling scene where the Governor, played by Clooney, questions his aides about their love lives, giving a satisfied smile as they each profess to be "married to the campaign, sir!"

On screen, aides have become younger, cooler and smartened up. Off screen, too, they have become glamorous all the time, coded in this country as "Spads" and awarded up to £140,000 a year if they stay in Downing Street long enough to avoid the fate of Andy Coulson.

And for every less appealing aide – Alastair Campbell, let's say, or Karl Rove, a campaign adviser who was never afraid to get his hands dirty, even if it meant literally combing through the opposition's garbage – there's a Jon Favreau, the impossibly handsome 30-year-old presidential speechwriter who Barack Obama calls his "mind-reader". No wonder chancers like Adam Werritty would risk everything to style themselves as a political adviser, given a little luck and encouragement.

But is the rise of the unelected, unaccountable aide something we really should be celebrating? In this country, the role of the adviser was historically held by a civil servant – like Thatcher's Bernard Ingham. Lifer civil servants aren't sexy and tend to look old even when they're quite young, but neither do they (supposedly) hold party allegiances.

Today a constellation of Spads, freelance political consultants and "friends" revolves around our elected leaders. How thrilling and shadowy and amusingly cynical their lives must be! Expect Clooney's film – the best political thriller of the year, by the way – to inadvertently act as a great big advert for the next cohort of thrusting young aides.

Offer the cash, but forget the 'tache

What is that, on your upper lip? Is it the remains of your cappuccino? Is it bicycle grease? Oh, I see. It's a charity moustache. Of course it is: today is the day that thousands of men around the world will begin their sponsored sprouting of hair.

That it's all in a good cause – fighting prostate cancer, and other cancers that affect men – makes it honourable. And yet it bugs me. Can you imagine any woman doing the equivalent for charity – leaving her hair unbrushed for a month, say, or letting a charity monobrow grow between her eyes? And the ironic tone of the whole endeavour is unbearable. Growing a moustache does not make you as funny as Monty Python, as hip as Johnny Depp. "Movember" kids you otherwise.

Some men suit moustaches, but most do not. Maybe those in the latter category might take a long look in the mirror, have a shave, and give the money directly to charity instead? We'll call it No-Movember.