Sunday, 21 August 2011

House of Spad/why Spads are bad

It seems most of the front benches these days are populated by ministers and their shadows who are former SPAD's (special advisers to departments/ministers).

David Cameron, George Osborne, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Yvette Cooper, Douglas Alexander and no doubt many others are all former advisers to other politicians. I would have no problem with this in itself if they had gone off and achieved things in the world outside of politics, but sadly this isn't the case. I'll do a quick google biography of each leader to see what life experience they bring to their politics and policy.

David Cameron:

Eton College and Oxford University, studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics and gaining a first class honours degree. After graduating he worked for the Conservative Party Research Department and then as a Special Adviser in government, first to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and then to the Home Secretary. Cameron spent seven years at Carlton, as head of corporate communications, travelling the world with the firm's boss Michael Green, who has described him as "board material".

He went straight in as head of comms at 27 despite having no experience of the communications industry. According to the Guardian he got the job because his girlfriend’s mother Lady Astor was good friends with Michael Green and he started on a salary of £90,000 a year.

He stood for the Stafford seat in 1997 which he lost and then in 2001 he was picked for the safe tory seat of West Oxfordshire, former seat of Douglas Hurd.

Ed Milliband:

London School of Economics, where he obtained a Masters in Economics.
The only non-party thing I can find anywhere is that “Ed worked briefly as a journalist “ but I cannot find out where or for whom. The rest of his career has been within the Labour party as a tea maker, speech writer, and adviser to Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown.  In 2002 he took a 12-month unpaid sabbatical from the Treasury to be a visiting scholar at the Centre for European Studies of Harvard University.

Nick Clegg:

Clegg studied social anthropology at Cambridge, was awarded a scholarship to study for a year at the University of Minnesota. Then worked as an intern under Christopher Hitchens at The Nation, in New York. He then went to Brussels to work for the G24 co-ordination unit, worked for a year at GJW a lobbying group (GJW had at one point lobbied for Libya). He then worked for the European Commision and then as European Union policy adviser and speech writer for Leon Brittan.

From there he was elected as a euro MP for the East Midlands. After that he was part of political lobbying firm GPlus as a fifth partner.

He was selected for the seat of Sheffield Hallam after the previous Lib Dem holder was Richard Allan was given a seat in the Lords. Although it isn’t a safe seat, since 1997 when the Tories lost the seat the Liberal Democrats have always got at least 51% of the vote.

I won’t do biogs of all the other spads mentioned but needless to say none of these people have really had jobs in the real world. If parties did choose their candidates on merit then these people wouldn’t be MP’s as they haven’t actually done anything to prove themselves. Instead we have a system of nepotism and patronage when who you know and not what you know is the most important thing to get ahead.

Thanks to the county voting no on the AV referendum it seems we are stuck with safe seats in this country for the foreseeable future. What we should have in this county is open primaries for candidates. I think it was something Cameron had suggested once before the election in 2010 but nothing has been heard of since. The local people should have a say in who the party puts up for election since we know that the current system means the candidates are chosen by central office and the local party committee, both of which are not elected by local people. In safe seats especially this is wholly undemocratic. 

It would be nice if a similar system could be brought in at local level too. Most of the council seats where I live in rural Oxfordshire never elect a non-Tory. Since the introduction of cabinets in councils democracy is even worse. There are 10 cabinet councillors who in Oxfordshire between them were voted for by 2.4% of the population. They make the decisions despite 97.6% of us never voted for them. It is hardly a shining beacon of democracy we teach to others.

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