The John Smith Centre is Designed to Undermine the Integrity and Authority of What is Left of the Impartiality of the UK Civil Service Through the Expansion and Influence of Political Special Advisors




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The John Smith Centre at Glasgow University

The Insidious Glasgow University supported John Smith Centre is designed to undermine the integrity and authority and what is left of the impartiality policies of the UK civil service through the expansion and influence of political special advisors (Spads).

This article provides a look-back at the unfettered growth of the political Spad, many of whom go on to  become career politicians.

By result the austerity punished taxpayer is lumbered with an additional massive and ever expanding expense in the £billions supporting many hundreds of privileged party animals who, from the time they leave university until retirement age sponge of the state.

The Spad monstrosity should be discontinued and the Civil Service reinstated.





The Look-back

In his final months as Prime Minister,  Blair accepted that his government had:  “paid inordinate attention to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media” (Blair: 2007).

The admission, made ten years after he had led the Labour Party to a landslide general election victory in 1997, was confirmation of one of the defining characteristics of his government.

In July 2009: there were 74 SPADS in post at Labour controlled Westminster providing advice to government ministers at a cost to the taxpayer of £6million.

In December 2015: under the Tory coalition government the number of SPAD’s increased to 97. Costing £11million.


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Spin doctors

In addition to the political SPAD’s the government employs “spin doctors” whose role is to put a positive face to anything the government might do regardless of truth or probity.

The most infamous “Spin Doctor” in recent times was Blair’s, Alistair Campbell who, less than a week from forming the first “New Labour” Government signalled his intentions to reform the government communications system,  telling a meeting of information officers that he:
“wanted them to be able to predict what would be on the front page of the Sun the next day-and help write it.”
The message was clear: Campbell wanted a civil service press machine which was more assertive, more proactive, and one which was able to respond at speed.
Paul Waugh, a political journalist since the 1990s, recalled that Labour spinners found the civil service:  “an interference at worse, and an obstruction at best.”  (
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Mundell -The Scottish Office and his abuse of Scottish finance

The Scotland Office has been branded a “marketing campaign for the Union” after figures showed its budget for press officers had increased fivefold in little over 5 years.

In 2010/11 the Scottish Office employed 2 communications staff at a cost of £108,439.  By 2015/16 staff had increased to 9 at a cost of nearly £500,000.

An analysis of Scottish Office press briefings indicated each release had cost the Scottish taxpayer nearly £7,000.

Further examination of the content of the releases revealed that all of it was aimed at marketing the benefits of the “Union”


Ed Milliband & his SPAD Katie




Roles and responsibilities of the SPAD

SPAD’s are paid employees of the State and are – subject to specified exceptions – required to conduct themselves in accordance with the Civil Service Code.”  which states that the highest standards of conduct are expected of special advisers.

i. “Specifically, the preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life.

ii. “Any special adviser ever found to be disseminating inappropriate material will automatically be dismissed by their appointing minister.

iii. “Special advisers…must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks.”

iv  “All contacts with news media should be authorized, in advance by the appointing minister.”

But the world of the SPAD is murky. They are accountable only to the Minister that appointed them.

There is no formal recruitment process or interview. How does it work?


A minster decides he needs a SpAd. He gets in touch with the Downing Street office and obtains permission to appoint one.

Approval granted the minister contacts an old friend from University who might be between jobs and offers him the post.

The person accepts.

The following Monday the new SPAD reports for duty on a salary of between £60,000 -£155,000.

Nice if you know the right people.


Norman Lamont and his SPAD



The (late) Sir Jeremy (Cover-up) The Law? I am the law!!!

Heywood, then Cabinet Office Supremo and Head of the Civil Service, nicknamed Sir Cover Up after preventing the Chilcott Iraq War inquiry from seeing letters and records of phone calls between Blair and was caught up in a row over bending the rules of the Civil Service by illegally permitting Cabinet Office, SPAD’s  to campaign for the Tory Party in a bye-election.

Sir Jeremy was a powerful force at No10. Cameron once joked: “Remind me, Jeremy, do you work for me or do I work for you?” Critics alleged he was complicit in the culture of “sofa government” when Blair was PM.


Blair and his Spin doctor Alistair Campbell




The SPAD’s and Spin Doctors wield the Power in the murky sewers of Westminster

Disparagingly dubbed the: “people who live in the dark”. They are often spotted darting through the television studios of Westminster with their minister, briefing papers under arm and Blackberry in hand. Young, sharp and driven, they are politicians-in-waiting.

Among former SPAD’s are Cameron, Osborne and the Miliband brothers,

Employed as temporary civil servants, they do not have to be politically impartial like their civil service colleagues.

They link together the minister, the party and the department.

They are also the bridge between the neutral civil service and politicians.

They help write speeches, some are policy wonks, while others focus on the media.

If a journalist wants to know what a cabinet minister thinks or understand what a policy is about, a call to the special adviser is one of the first ones to make. But they are sometimes sneered at by some journalists.

Michael Jacobs, former special adviser to Gordon Brown, told the BBC that: “while ministers needed civil servants for impartial advice, they needed SPAD’s to help them to make political judgments and consider different options: “They are the lubricant in the machine.”

Spad’s first became a permanent fixture in Whitehall in the 1970s.

Their number ballooned under Labour.

In 1996 there were 38 working in government, costing the taxpayer £2m.

In 2004 the number peaked at 84 and in 2008/9 there were 74, at a cost of £6m.

But their expanded ranks prompted concern about their role.

Critics voiced concern that a more American, politically driven civil service was sneaking in via the special advisers and lines of accountability were being blurred.

Just after the terror attacks in the US on 11 September 2001  SPAD Jo Moore sent an e-mail to a colleague saying it would be a good time “to bury” bad news. He behaviour triggered a number of reviews into the role and power of SPAD’s.

Another spad-related scandal was the revelation that Gordon Brown’s Spin Doctor, Damian McBride had been guilty of smearing senior Tory’s in e-mails. This prompted Brown to ask the cabinet secretary to review the rules governing their behaviour.


William Hauge and his SpAd enjoy a walk in the sun




Agreed limits to be applied to the number of SPAD’s at Westminster and beyond

The Conservative opposition committed to a reduction in the number of SPAD’s. A democracy task force, headed by Ken Clarke MP, recommended they be halved.

Number of SPAD’s employed at Westminster:

1996/7: 38

1997/8: 70

2004/5: 84

2006/7: 68

2008/9: 74

2009/10: 71

2010/2011: 74

2011/2012: 85

2012/2013: 98

2013/14: 103

2015/2016: 97

2016/2017: 88

2017/2018: 99

2019/2020:  Expected to be significantly higher due to Brexit

Under the Tory government, special advisers to roam the corridors of Whitehall in ever increasing numbers.

Their close relationships to cabinet ministers and lobby correspondents give them influence – a power that can hatch into a political career later on.

A successful stint as a SPAD is a significant crucial political apprenticeship – as many of the current crop of professional politicians can testify – so long as they stay in the dark.


Brown and his SPAD Damian McBride




SPAD’s are over protected and should be accountable

They are among the most shadowy figures in government.

They sit at the right hand of Cabinet ministers and in some cases wield more influence than even the most senior civil servants, yet their names are rarely known to the public.

They are unelected and unaccountable to either the public or Parliament.

They are the chosen few, though how they come to be chosen is something of a mystery.

Their privileged positions are never advertised, but increasingly the posts they hold lead to the very top of politics.


Osborne and his SPAD Rupert Harrison




Pay and Other Forms of Remuneration

Cameron and Clegg broke their promise to curb the numbers of highly-paid SPAD’s.

In opposition Cameron promised to ‘cut the cost of politics’ and the coalition agreement said there would be a ‘limit’ on the number of special advisers.

In opposition Clegg said, “special advisers shouldn’t be paid for by the public”.

But as soon as he got his feet under the Cabinet table, he broke his word.

Osborne froze the wages of six million public sector workers at the time the Coalition came to power, plunging many into poverty under his cruel austerity drive.

Yet the heartless Chancellor handed one of the chief architects of the public sector pay freeze, fellow Old Etonian, friend and SPAD, Rupert Harrison, a 19% inflation-busting increase boosting his £80,000 salary by £15,000.

Not to be outdone, Treasury minister, Danny Alexander bumped up the pay of his own adviser, Will de Peyer by 16 per cent to £75,000 then employed an additional SPAD on a £95,000 salary.

A Tory government Cabinet Office list registered the employment of 26 special advisers in Downing Street of which six were paid £100,000 or more.

To the foregoing was added Cameron’s:

Chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn £140,000.

Director of Communications, Craig Oliver £140,000.

Deputy Head of the No 10 Policy Unit, Christopher Lockwood £ 134,000.

Prime Minister’s Press Secretary, Graeme Wilson £110,000.

Deputy Chief of Staff, Kate Fall £100,000.

Director of Communications (Mr Clegg), Steve Lotinga £105,000

Plus another 3 SPAD’s and another 16 SPAD’s to support the Lib/Dem ministers.


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Is there a way out of this mess?

Asked to comment a senior (retired) civil servant said:

“When I was a civil servant I was expected to keep my political opinions to myself. It was also expected, having signed the Official Secrets Act, that I would not reveal information to which I was privy because of my job.

It seems to me that there is a basic conflict of interest here. Should SPAD,s be paid for put of the public purse?

If so, is it compatible with public interest for them to stand for a political interest anyway?

The employment of SPAD’ at the expense of the taxpayer should be discontinued and replaced with civil servants entrants with specialist expertise.”


If you want to get to the top in politics regardless of talent !! Get a job as a SPAD to a minister.


















2 replies on “The John Smith Centre is Designed to Undermine the Integrity and Authority of What is Left of the Impartiality of the UK Civil Service Through the Expansion and Influence of Political Special Advisors”

A costly business for the people that’s for sure. A nice little earner for the boys and girls with the right, connections shall we say. This will never change and with liblabcontory rule, will continue. To call ukok a democracy is laughable, short of removing the vote from the poor, unemployed or non property owners etc as was the case not so very long ago, this is corrupt as hell. Taking the piss out if the electorate, big style.


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