Talk to any political Special Advisor in any administration on these islands and they will speak endlessly of their frustration with getting senior civil servants to anything the Minister wants them to do… Even the best of them struggle with the institutional inertia… And the sheer bloody mindedness of it… Danny Finklestein argues there should be more of them with greater seniority and with a deal more clout:
Cabinet government is not about holding longer or more frequent Cabinet meetings. It is about ensuring that ministers are able to contribute to decision making in an orderly way. Civil servants assist where departmental interests are at stake. But what about where the issue is political? How can ministers keep abreast of political developments and ensure that they make themselves felt? The answer is by employing good, powerful, effective special advisers.
A second reason more important still for supporting special advisers is to ensure that there are outsiders challenging the civil servants. Andrew Turnbull told the select committee that he objected to special advisers coming in, with no experience, rising to become Cabinet ministers by the time they were 38 without touching the sides of real life. It was a bit of a cheek. He spent his entire career in government service and was private secretary to the Prime Minister when he was 38, without having touched the sides either.
To do their job properly, the advisers should be more senior and have more power, not less.
That is always presuming the Minister themselves is not the first cause of the institutional inertia…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty