The John Smith Centre at Glasgow University
The secret service, Glasgow University supported John Smith Centre exists 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 resulting in the austerity punished taxpayer being lumbered with an additional massive and ever expanding expense in the many £billions supporting thousands of privileged party animals who sponge off the state from the time they leave university until retirement. The monstrosity should be discontinued and the Civil Service reinstated
18 Oct 2021: Scotland Cannot Afford Sturgeon and her Tumefied Collection of Overpaid Failures
Sturgeon’s pickpocket politicians and special advisers is costing Scottish taxpayers more than £5m a year after doubling in size since she took up leadership of the SNP.
In 2007, the year the SNP first won power, the cost of ministerial salaries, office staff and advisers was around £2.5m, (not including the salaries of First Minister or Deputy First Minister) and soared to around £5m in 2021. Projections are total additional cost will be around £15m over the lifetime of this government. Costs are attributed to the number of cabinet secretaries doubling from four to eight and the number of junior ministers increasing from ten to 17. There was also a surge in special advisers, with 21 now employed by ministers – more than double the figure for Alex Salmond’s 2007 government.
Ministers salaries (excluding Sturgeon & Swinney) – now cost £1m annually, while private office salaries are £2.7m, and salaries for special advisers is £1.3m. All underestimated approximates.
Roles and responsibilities of the SPAD
SPAD’s are not civil servants but as paid employees of the State they 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 them.
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.”
Afternote 1: Liz Lloyd was awarded civil servant status and received more than £6,000 in legal advice relating to her conduct. She refused to to appear at the inquiry and instead submitted written evidence which could not be challenged. The content of the £6,000 letter to the inquiry was rendered useless since it was so heavily redacted by the Scottish Government before submission.
Afternote 2: It has been established, beyond reasonable doubt that the criminal passing of confidential government information about false allegations of misconduct in office by Alex Salmond to the Daily Record and journalist David Clegg in October 2017, was the act of a senior Scottish Government SPAD. That person is still in the employ of the Minister concerned so it follows (interpreting the rule) that the leak was authorised, in advance by the Minister. That person needs to be exposed to the public and the police so that appropriate action can be taken to restore the confidence of the electorate who are disillusioned by the s***house politicking of its government ministers.
Nepotism.There is no formal recruitment process or interview so how does it work?
A minster decides he needs a SPAD and gets in touch with Sturgeon and obtains permission to appoint. Approval granted the minister contacts a colleague, family member or old friend from University who might be between jobs and awards employment to a person suited to their needs. Nice if you know the right people.
Westminster – The SPAD breeding ground
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 wasteful and corrupt 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.
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 on 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.” (http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/74743/)
Mundell -The Scottish Office and his abuse of Scottish finance
The Scotland Office was 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”
The (late) Sir Jeremy (Cover-up) Heywood I am the law!!!
Then Cabinet Office Supremo and Head of the Civil Service, he was aptly 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.
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 media tools in hand. Young, sharp and driven, they are aspiring politicians just waiting advancement by the boss. Cameron, Osborne and the Miliband brothers, were SPADS.
Employed as temporary civil servants, the 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.
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.
Their ever expanding ranks caused concern within the electorate that the 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 the Labour government SPAD Jo Moore sent an e-mail to a colleague saying it would be a good time “to bury” bad news. His 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 forcing Brown to ask the cabinet secretary to review and tighten the rules of conduct relating to SPADS.
Agreed limits 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.
But under successive Westminster governments, special advisers 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
Number of SPAD’s employed at Westminster:
1996: 38, 1997: 70, 2004: 84, 2006: 68, 2008: 74, 2009: 71, 2010: 74, 2011:81, 2012: 85, 2012: 98, 2013: 103, 2015: 97, 2016: 88, 2017: 99.
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. They are unelected and unaccountable to either the public or Parliament. They are the chosen few, though how they come to be chosen is cloaked in mystery. Their privileged positions are never advertised, but increasingly the posts they hold lead to the very top of politics.
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 SPADS.
In opposition Clegg said, “SPADS 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. Added to the list 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.
Is there a way out of this mess?
A (retired) civil servant commented “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 out 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.”