politics explained

Politics Explained: A short history of political advisers who caused problems

Dominic Cummings is not the first aide to embarrass a leader, writes John Rentoul

Wednesday 27 May 2020 21:49 BST
Sir Alan Walters, an economist, ended up bringing Margaret Thatcher down
Sir Alan Walters, an economist, ended up bringing Margaret Thatcher down (PA)

History is littered with advisers who “became the story”. The English Civil War broke out only when parliament could no longer pretend that it was the king’s advisers who were the problem. Rasputin’s influence over Tsar Nicholas II was blamed for the Russian royal family’s unpopularity.

In recent times the outcomes have been less bloody, but still dramatic. Since Harold Wilson regularised political advisers in the 1960s, euphemistically calling them “special advisers”, a few of them have achieved great notoriety. Wilson’s press secretary, Joe Haines, was an early example of a political appointee who wielded great influence – although he managed to avoid embarrassing his boss until after he left office.

Margaret Thatcher’s economic adviser, Sir Alan Walters, clashed with Nigel Lawson, her chancellor, who tried to maintain the value of the pound against the German Deutschmark. Thatcher refused to let Sir Alan go, so Lawson himself resigned, the first breach in her defences that led to her own downfall a year later.

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