Want to improve British politics? Advertise special adviser roles

by Kevin Meagher

My Mum’s informal media monitoring service is always spot on.

‘They had some treasury minister on with Ed Balls this morning,’ she told me the other day.

‘She was absolutely hopeless. He made mincemeat out of her.’

Turns out the hapless victim of Ed Balls’s perfectly reasonable probing about the inflation rate was treasury minister, Laura Trott, putting in yet another faltering media appearance to add to the long, painful, list of similarly egregious examples.

I have these conversations with my Mum every day.

One hopeless minister after another does the media round, only to be pulled apart by interviewers like a French baguette.

There was a vintage example on Sky News.

James Daly, the deputy Tory party chairman, who made the police complaint about Angela Rayner’s disputed household arrangements, was on.

Labour’s Chris Bryant asked – again, perfectly reasonably – what he thought she had done wrong.

Presenter Kay Burley and Political Editor Beth Rigby, also part of the discussion, echoed the point.

Now, this was the most obvious thing in the world to ask him. Daly – badly briefed, panicky and defensive – floundered, accusing Bryant of shouting at him.

It seems to happen time and again.

Obvious questions that Tory frontbenchers should be prepared for leave them pole-axed.

It’s an excruciating sight and sound, as the life-force oozes out of this government on what is now a daily basis.

To horribly mix my metaphors, why are government ministers sent out to the crease with a broken bat, unsupported and incoherent?

Most obviously, it’s something to do with the declining quality of government ministers.

The fag-end of a government means you end up promoting people who wouldn’t have got a look-in five or ten years ago.

But it also speaks to the precipitous decline in the quality of their special advisers, who, after all, exist to help avoid politicians’ pratfalls.

Here’s a modest suggestion to improve matters: Publicly advertise these roles in future.

At a stroke it resolves two interlocked problems that bedevil our political system.

First, it addresses the culture of nepotism at the very heart of British politics.

Acolytes are recruited into senior roles as political advisers on the basis of who they know, not what they know, can do, or have done.

Grisly student politicians graduating to ministerial aides in one swift, oily move by their mid-20s.

The court of Boris Johnson being a case in point, festooned, as it was, with young, manifestly incompetent advisers who didn’t even have the sense not to break their own Covid restrictions, ultimately costing their boss his job – and many of them, theirs.

The second, more prosaic benefit to recruiting outside Westminster’s shallow gene pool is that ministers and frontbenchers will get better, more skilled and experienced people.

Select advisers who will bring not only valuable experience to the job, but also a fresh perspective.

It bears saying that the most overrated virtue in politics is blind loyalty.

Surely the best advice for ministers or putative ministers is that instead of surrounding yourself with second-rate lapdogs, it is infinitely preferable and, you might imagine bleedingly obvious, to instead choose people of the basis of their ability.

It certainly is to any business leader.

But not, seemingly, to many senior politicians.

Kevin Meagher is the associate editor of Labour Uncut

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2 Responses to “Want to improve British politics? Advertise special adviser roles”

  1. John P reid says:

    SO apart form Bryant who all he di was ask for evidence that couldn’t be proved at that second, (ok hypocrisy of tories) on the fiddle is ignored with the Rayner scandal

    and ed balls isn’t A MP ,so yes the tories get into parliament too soon haven’t a clue ,but the labour MPs who come in haven’t a clue either as they’re all oxbridge human rights special advisers or metropolitan woke liberals and they won’t have a clue the way those who use to have proper jobs at the co-op or unions or were local constituency MP who rans councils outside of london and know what they’re doing

  2. ann onnimus says:

    Better still, get rid of special advisers altogether. But of course, you were one, weren’t you, Kevin?

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