What's behind No 10's plan for new advisers?

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No 10 is recruiting. Again.

No, it’s not being done via Boris Johnson’s most senior aide’s personal blog this time, but instead on a bespoke website.

According to the advert, the Conservative Party is seeking “talented and experienced communications and digital professionals” to serve as special advisers.

Universally known as “Spads”, these are the men and women who, like a strong perfume, swirl and waft around ministers as they move through Whitehall.

They provide advice to their bosses and, to varying degrees, talk to journalists.

And Downing Street believes it’s time to recruit from a greater variety of backgrounds. They want to “fish in a big pool”.


If follows the now infamous appointment of Andrew Sabisky, which came after Dominic Cummings put out a call for “misfits and weridos” to come and work at the heart of government.

Some will suspect No 10 is trying to professionalise things. All successful candidates will, apparently, be screened and vetted by the Conservative Party, even though their wages will be paid for by the taxpayer, in the usual way.

The party has hired PR advisers Hanbury Strategy to handle the first stage of the process. Hanbury lists Paul Stephenson as one of its partners – the man who was the director of communications for Vote Leave.

But the other suspicion will be that this is about control. Senior figures in Downing Street will get the final say before successful applicants are then distributed across various roles.

Remember why Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor? Because he was asked to ditch all his political advisers.

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Media captionSajid Javid: Ministers decide on their advisers

While No 10 would previously have a say over appointments, this new method, as one former Spad put it to me, reminds people “what side their bread is buttered on”.

Spads have been known to go rogue before – giving their own spin on events to the media. This created an image of a cracked and divided government – something that became endemic as Theresa May’s administration limped into 2019.

So, this new recruitment plan will be seen as an attempt to prevent this happening in future.

But the same ex-adviser says there’s a genuine logic to opening up the process.

“The question I often got asked is how I got into it, rather than what do I actually do,” they add.

Exert power

Spads are seen as often coming from the same tight circle of think tanks, campaign groups, media organisations and party backrooms.

But there’s no doubt it fits into a broader disciplinary approach by a Downing Street that knows it’s got a fresh electoral mandate.

And that, now, more than ever, is the time to exert power and push its aims.