That doesn’t mean spads are a popular part of government. Andrew Blick’s excellent history of the position, People Who Live in the Dark, is peppered with the insults levelled at spads over the years, including ‘the sand in the machine’, ‘a huge menace to democracy’ and even ‘the rent boys of politics’. Perhaps such abuse is understandable, given the scandals involving spads like Jo Moore, Damian McBride, Andy Coulson and Adam Smith – not to mention the most well-known special adviser of all, Alastair Campbell. But it also reflects a lack of understanding about the position. It is tricky for a spad to be useful and famous at the same time, so most spads ignore the noise and simply get on with trying to do a good job out of the limelight. As Michael Jacobs, a spad to Gordon Brown, told the Public Administration Committee: ‘You have not heard of most special advisers, and nor should you. They operate within the system.’ In a new essay for the Institute for Government, In Defence of Special Advisers: Lessons from Personal Experience, I shed some light on the role and argue that spads need a champion whose job is to explain what […]

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