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Special Advisers

Who they are, what they do and why they matter

By: Ben Yong, Robert Hazell
Media of Special Advisers
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Published: 21-08-2014
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 302
ISBN: 9781849465601
Imprint: Hart Publishing
Dimensions: 234 x 156 mm
RRP: £40.00
Online price : £36.00
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Loren Epson

About Special Advisers

Viewers of The Thick of It will know of special advisers as spin doctors and political careerists. Several well-known ministers have been special advisers, among them David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Jack Straw and Vince Cable. People also know about the public relations disasters involving Jo Moore, Damian McBride and Adam Smith. But what is the reality? What do special advisers actually do in government? Who are they, where do they come from, and why are they needed?
This book is the most detailed study yet carried out of special advisers. The Constitution Unit's research team, led by Dr Ben Yong and Professor Robert Hazell, assembled a comprehensive database of over 600 special advisers since 1979. They conducted written surveys, and interviewed over 100 special advisers, ministers and officials from the past thirty years. They conclude that special advisers are now a permanent and indispensable part of Whitehall, but are still treated as transient and temporary. The book concludes with practical recommendations for increasing the effectiveness of special advisers through improvements to their recruitment, induction and training, support and supervision, and strengthening their accountability.

Table Of Contents

1. Why Study Special Advisers?
Ben Yong
2. Special Advisers and British Government
Ben Yong
3. Who are Special Advisers?
Ben Yong
4. What Special Advisers Do for Ministers
David Laughrin
5. Special Advisers and the Policy-Making Process
Peter Waller
6. Special Advisers and Communications
Peter Waller
7. The Regulation, Accountabilities and Responsibilities of Special Advisers
Ben Yong
8. The Comparative Experience of Political Staff: Westminster Jurisdictions and Ministerial Cabinets
Ben Yong
9. Improving the Performance of Special Advisers
Robert Hazell
10. A Profession Comes of Age
Robert Hazell
Appendix 1: Methodology
Max Goplerud
Appendix 2: Further Work on the Distribution and Tenure
of Special Advisers
Max Goplerud
x Contents
Appendix 3: The Post-government Career of Special Advisers
Anna Sellers
Appendix 4: Biographies


“The information presented about who they are, their skills and their career paths alone would make this book a 'must read' for current and potential ministers, spads and civil servants.” –  Gus O'Donnell, Civil Service World, September 2014

“Special advisers are one of the least understood players at the crossover of the political and civil service worlds. This book sheds valuable new light on their role and on what could be done to clarify their position and to improve their performance.” –  Peter Riddell, Director, Institute for Government,

“Until now the debate about special advisers has produced far more heat than light. Here at last is a serious study looking at what special advisers do – and how they might do it better. These are people at the heart of government and this book brings them in from the constitutional cold.” –  Professor Tony Wright, former MP and chair of the Public Administration Select Committee,

“This fair-minded account of what being a special adviser really involves delves beneath the Malcolm Tucker caricature to reveal an emerging profession whose role is increasingly important in delivering for democracy. The thoughtful recommendations would go a long way to improve the effectiveness and understanding of the special adviser.” –  Conor Ryan, Special Adviser to Tony Blair and David Blunkett,

“Overall, Special Advisers is a comprehensive and fair contribution which will serve anyone wishing to demystify the role well. It is an easy read, albeit a rather dry one...There are plenty of illuminating stories to be told.” –  Claire Reynolds, Progress Magazine, 17th September 2014

“...this is an extremely important book that provides the first comprehensive account of who special advisers are, what they do, and the role [they] play in British Government.” –  Martin Smith, Public Law

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