David's Musings



“He who knows not, but knows not that he knows not, is a fool – shun him

He who knows not, but knows that he knows not, is simple – teach him

He who knows, but knows not that he knows, is asleep – wake him

He who knows, and knows that he knows, is a wise man – follow him”

It would seem that we have very many who fit the first three classifications (especially the first) and none that fit the last – that is borne out by this written Prime Ministerial Statement.

From Wikipedia we learn that Special Advisers work in a supporting role to the British government; that they possess media, political or policy expertise and their duty is to assist and advise government ministers. 

Politicians lead us to believe that they and only they are sufficiently wise to lead, govern, rule us (take your pick) so one has to ask if that is so why did the salary bill (2011-21012) for Special Advisers amount to £6.2million? Of that figure the Special Advisers to David Cameron cost £1.4million and those for Nick Clegg £600,000. Do we not have – and already pay for – civil servants to fulfill this role?

This just goes to prove a long-held belief of mine; namely that when managing UK plc, a PPE Degree is worth squat-diddly.

Just saying……………


Afterthought: And this matter is something else for the Harrogate Agenda to consider – at the appropriate juncture, of course.




13 Responses

  1. As I understand it, civil servants are apolitical. As such, they cannot properly advise ministers on how well certain policy fits the political agenda of the minister, only how well policy and its execution fits with the world. Civil servants (usually more junior ones) are also responsible for execution, once policy is decided upon.

    Special advisors, on the other hand, are political and of the same party as their boss/minister. Hence they can advise on how well particular policies (including all the necessary practical and political compromises) do fit with the political agenda of the minister (and his/her political party).

    Thus, assuming there is more policy work than can be done by a single person (ie the minister him- or herself), political advisors are necessary – and so are policy-level civil servants.

    Policy and its execution continues beyond a change in the governing party, at least until changed by the incoming minister, and that will not be an immediate change. So there needs to be staff who understand the policy, after the minister and his/her special advisors have gone. Those staff are the more senior and policy-oriented civil servants.

    None of this stops there being more civil servants and/or more political advisors than are really necessary (or even less than really necessary). Likewise on their pay levels.

    Best regards

    • david says:

      Accept, and realize that what you say is obviously correct, however I come back to the point that if politicians know so much (or at least they would have us believe that is the case) why SPADS are necessary – and if they are why there are so many.

      The point made by the next comment – should they not be paid by the Minister concerned – is worthy of an answer from one of them.

  2. Anoneumouse says:

    Nigel, your understanding is correct. That is why I have always argued that a special advisor should be paid by the individual MP that he serves and not from the public purse.

    • david says:

      Fair point – see above.

    • Anoneumouse, I did note well that you made that point at the Harrogate meeting. That was for MPs and their support staff, though I do see that the same approach could be taken for ministers and their special advisors.

      On both, I see danger: that MPs and ministers would see personal benefit in pocketing the money rather than paying it to support staff. However, there is also benefit that MPs and ministers would be much more interested in value for money if it came from their pocket – though I suspect they already really are interested in selecting staff who make the most contribution. This given that the number of and pay of advisors is constrained by parliament and by common practice.

      Overall, I do not know which of these two approaches is best; nor whether there are other approaches that would be better than both.

      However, I am here now by cause of the Harrogate Agenda. What I do know is that these sorts of detailed arrangements are, for me, way below anything that might appear on my list of 6 or so major changes to the way the UK is governed. That is except in so far as such details do potentially contribute to a general principle of much better value for money from government (which is on my list – most directly and widely useful (IMHO) as Lords reform through it becoming a ‘House of Taxpayers’).

      Best regards

      • david says:

        Of course the point should be made – and one so easily missed – that had we direct democracy wherein the responsibilities of national government were curtailed, they would not have so much to deal with and could be ‘real’ experts in the portfolio for which they have responsibility.

  3. Andy Baxter says:

    “As I understand it, civil servants are apolitical.”

    Nigel civil servants and advisers to cabinet and government stopped being apolitical a very longtime ago but none more so under Anthony Blair! Alistair Campbell being a point of order who was given by a committe of the Privy Council (the Cabinet) political control and manageral authority over civil servants via an ‘order of council’.

    just another way the executive have usurped power. GAWD guys we have to fix this and soon………

    • Anoneumouse says:

      “The whole system of Cabinet government is founded not on laws but on practices” – Sir Ivor Jennings. “Cabinet Government”.

    • Andy, I hold no liking for many of the methods of Blair or Campbell and, depending on the details of the arrangements (of which I am not currently aware), may well agree with you that the arrangement was undesirable, inappropriate, etc.

      But if the exact same instructions would have arrived later, going up and down two legs of command independent below the top, I can conceive that a more efficient arrangement might have its advantages. Is not the true ‘dislike’ of this arrangement that it gave too high an equivalent (civil service) rank to Campbell? Or perhaps it was (in the minds of some, even including me) misuse of official government publicity channels for party-political purposes?

      Civil servants accepting instructions from ministers does not make them political. So how does civil servants accepting the same instructions from a special advisor make them political?

      I’d be interested to know if the same practices are ongoing under the current government.

      Best regards

      • david says:

        “Civil servants accepting instructions from ministers does not make them political. So how does civil servants accepting the same instructions from a special advisor make them political?”

        Maybe by SPADS being ‘temporary’ civil servants it means that the civil service has been politicised?

        Just asking…….

        In any event, this entire discussion is centred on the status quo remaining where the number of politicians is concerned. There is a system of democracy whereby the numbers of politicians in Westminster could be dramatically reduced, along with the number of civil servants – two birds killed with one stone, so to speak. Result?

        As to your question posed at the end, I would hazard a guess that it is………

  4. Robin says:

    You want knowledge ?

    How about all government ,local and national , is never a closed book excepting for police and security matters ?
    No “confidential advice ” given to ministers by senior civil servants , and freedom of information is a right , not a priviledge ?

    • david says:

      Could not agree more and it is one of the delights of direct democracy. Another is that we would have half the number of politicians, they would need to have proper jobs because they would get little salary, only expenses and that because they need to get people on their side they consult far more with the public because they know that if they don’t their proposal will probably be thrown out.

  5. blingmun says:

    “He who knows not, but knows that he knows not, is simple”

    Instead of “simple” that sentence should read “Socrates”.

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