The world of the Special Adviser

Special Advisers – or SpAds as they are known in Whitehall and Westminster – are in the news this week because of the publication of e-mails from the advisers to Cabinet ministers Jeremy Hunt and Vince Cable concerning the News Corporation bid for BSkyB and the resignation of Hunt’s adviser Adam Smith.

During the Wilson/Callaghan administrations of the 1970s, I was a Special Adviser in the Northern Ireland Office and the Home Office. In the Blair/Brown governments of the 1990s/2000s, my son was an adviser in the Department for Education & Skills and the Department for International Development and my daughter-in-law held the same role in the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills and the Treasury.

So I know a bit about the role of the SpAds and generally such advisers perform a useful role in providing political advice and support to Cabinet ministers to complement the advice offered by the neutral civil service. But Smith clearly abused the position and had to go. Knowing the work of SpAds as I do, it is hard to imagine that Hunt was totally unaware of his adviser’s activity and therefore Hunt’s own position is now very precarious.

There was an interesting book on Special Advisers called “People Who Live In The Dark” which referenced me and you can read my review here.


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