Here’s a fascinating post on the Conservative Home Tory Diary from one Paul Goodman, complaining about the fact that No.10 Permanent Secretary Jeremy Heywood wants to have ministerial special advisers brought into civil service line management.
The Awesome Whitehall Blog not yet existing, I’ll explain that a special adviser is a political appointee picked by a government minister as part of their personal staff, who is paid a civil service salary and who can sometimes give instructions to professional civil servants. They answer to the minister. Real civil servants report both to an operational manager (in this case, the minister) and a line manager (in this case, the department’s top civil servant, and eventually, Heywood) who essentially represents the civil service as an institution.
Obviously there is the potential for conflict here, and it’s a long-running political theme.
Anyway, cue a massive amount of whining from various Tories who appear to have conveniently forgotten (must be catching over there) that they believe that the presence of numerous special advisers in government and the fact that some of them could give instructions to civil servants is literally the worst thing ever. In 1997-2001, they banged on about this to nausea and beyond. SPADs were corrupting our national institutions and getting us ready to be integrated into a country called Europe, with regions and no fox hunting.
Suddenly, not so much. Could it be it was always a load of bullshit? Surely not.
(I left a comment in this sense, but somehow it doesn’t seem to have shown up – funny that.) But the really strange bit is as follows:
But Sir Jeremy has the Government’s Spad problem precisely the wrong way round. There isn’t too little civil service or Downing Street control. There is too much – certainly in the latter case. (Andy Coulson wanted a media Spad in each department, precisely to tighten his grip.) And there aren’t too many Spads. There are too few, as Tim Montgomerie has said right from the start.
Permanent Secretaries should use their present powers properly rather than be chasing after new ones: after all, the Culture Department’s could have vetoed Mr Smith’s dealings with the Murdoch Empire.
Of course there is a huge story hiding in plain sight here, which is the plan to have Murdoch men embedded in each ministerial office, talking back to Andy Coulson, and presumably getting information fed forward from News International except we don’t talk about that because shut up. I somehow doubt the DCMS would have vetoed anything much had one of Coulson’s Zampolits been imposed on it. Did someone say a parallel civil service?
Meanwhile, meet the Johnson/Policy Exchange gang’s mates.