Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 41, November 14, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

The system of Special Advisers

Struggle between Contending Private Interests Intensifies at the Heart of Government

The resignation first of Lee Cain as Director of Communications and then of Dominic Cummings from the team of advisers of the Prime Minister reflects the intensifying struggle between contending private interests at the heart of government. Lee Cain is said to have been sidelined and blocked from promotion to Chief of Staff, and Cummings was said to have been his close ally and a de facto chief of staff at No.10. This fiasco has followed the "shake-up" of the Civil Service over the past nine months or so.

It does not signify a change in the system or a slow-down or reversal of the restructuring of the state but rather its opposite. It is widely acknowledged that these figures within the Number 10 Policy Unit wielded influence that ensured government was in no way accountable. The manner of their leaving, as well as who remains [1], demonstrates the instability of the system whereby it is narrow private interests rather than any public authority that control decision-making. One thing is for sure: that the interests of the people are nowhere reflected in governance. The anger of the electorate at their disenfranchising is palpable.

Dominic Cummings leaving 10 Downing Street

It is openly acknowledged that what is and has been unfolding is a power struggle. The system of SpAds, or Special Advisers, which consolidated decision-making away from the people's concerns, has itself degenerated into a disarray of warring factions. But what unites these factions is a determination to control this "elite centre". The drive of the factions of warring oligarchs, who want nothing more than fabulous enrichment no matter what the cost, is creating chaos, and is in utter contradiction with a socialised economy and the people's well-being.

It is clear that the working class and people reject this state of affairs. They are striving to find ways to speak and act in their own name, and work out the forms of their own decision-making power. They certainly reject the present system whereby those that are elected by them and usurp their name are then unaccountable to them, and decision-making at the heart of government goes on behind a veil. The conclusion is that new mechanisms must be brought into being which guarantee the accountability of the elected, the right of all to elect and be elected, and the end of the party-dominated system of government, which is showing itself to be completely dysfunctional. The desperation to prevent this alternative from taking root is creating political chaos, for which the answer is being sought in the police powers and the rearrangement of the state around the wielding of those powers.


1. Some of the notable advisers are:
Munira Mirza. As head of the No. 10 Policy Unit, she runs a team of around a dozen advisers. It is reported that her opposition to Lee Cain was decisive.
Edward (Eddie) Lister. Is said to be Boris Johnson's most trusted aide. He was Johnson's chief of staff at City Hall when Johnson was Mayor of London. Described as Johnson's chief strategic advisor.
James Slack. The Prime Minister's chief spokesperson, now to be Director of Communications at No. 10.
Ben Gascoigne. Was made Johnson's political secretary after the general election, having been Johnson's private secretary when he was Mayor.
Simon Case. Replaced Mark Sedwill as Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service in September.
David Frost. Special adviser on both national security and Europe, and chief negotiator on Brexit. He is reported to be on the brink of resignation following the departure of Lee Cain.

Among the No.10 team are said to be six advisers closely associated with the think-tank Policy Exchange. In 2019, the think-tank published a report entitled "Whitehall Reimagined". Their recommendations were summarised as:
1. Significantly enhance the capacity of No. 10 to develop and direct policy change through Whitehall.
2. Promote systemic cultural reform to increase efficient working practices between the permanent civil service and political advisers
3. Restore Extended Ministerial Offices and enhance policy support for junior ministers.
4. Consolidate departments and revitalise Cabinet Committees
5. Reform of civil service recruitment and progression to enhance expertise, accountability and institutional memory
6. Improve digital capabilities and ethically harness the opportunities of AI and Big Data.
7. Strengthen the role of internal and external specialists in formulating policy and advising ministers.
8. Reform Whitehall processes to streamline policy making and strengthen the ability of ministers to obtain robust legal advice.
9. Streamline public procurement to make the tendering process faster, more flexible and more supportive of British jobs.
10. Reform the Public Appointments Process to enable it to better appoint the highest calibre individuals to roles where they will deliver the government's objectives.


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