Editorial: Bring the spads out of the dark

Share
Related Topics

The role of political appointees in government is a controversial one. For some, they are the much-needed oil without which the wheels of Whitehall grind impossibly slow. For others, they are either the ineffectual "tsars" so popular with Gordon Brown or the hired guns brought in to force through their masters' pet projects regardless of the objections of officials.

In fact, the case against outside expertise can only be compellingly made against individuals, not against the concept. Not only is there more than a grain of truth in Whitehall's reputation for resistance. The business of running the country is also extraordinarily complex, difficult and varied; the Government should have access to all possible talents. Indeed, such has long been the case; as far back as Lloyd George, politicians have looked to the expert and the sympathetic to help get things done.

Even so, there are grounds for complaint. Time and again, departmental special advisers – "people who live in the dark", as Clare Short once described them – have run amok. Damian McBride, for example, was so vicious as to prompt a new clause in the code of conduct prohibiting personal attacks. Equally, political appointees' responsibilities are too often ill-defined. Nor are their lines of accountability sufficiently clear. Ministers are supposedly responsible for their advisers. And yet they wriggle free. Although Adam Smith resigned over his close contacts with News International at the time of its BSkyB bid, his boss – Jeremy Hunt – pleaded ignorance and kept his job. A similar situation appears to be developing at the Department for Education. Michael Gove claims no knowledge of allegations of bullying against several members of his team. Meanwhile, insiders report an "aggressive, intimidating culture" and a clique of special advisers who believe themselves untouchable. And one, Dominic Cummings, now faces questions over his aggression towards journalists.

A degree of tension between permanent officials and political appointees is unavoidable. Open warfare and charges of ideological crusades are not. But until the activities of "spads" are more clearly prescribed and controlled, such problems will continue. The issue is not the existence of external advisers, it is the netherworld in which they operate.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor