Special Advisers

We’ve all heard of Brown and Blair, Cameron and Osbourne, Sunak and Johnson; dynamic duos to whom the direction of the country is usually attributed.  To the lesser observer, it is sufficient to believe that it is the politician who creates the policy, it is the Prime Minister devises the strategy, and that it is the Civil Service that executes the strategy.  What is less known however is the complex web of Special Advisers (SpAds) that exist in the shadows of Westminster politics, tasked with implementing the decisions of their party leaders.  In recent years, SpAds have become somewhat infamous, both in the press and popular discourse.  Figures such as Dominic Cummings and Alastair Campbell have given the profession an unflattering reputation: Machiavellian figures engaging in unsavoury behaviour, a perception not altered by the popularity of TV shows such as The Thick of It.  However, the truth is that SpAds are some of the most knowledgeable and capable people in the British body politic, possessing expertise in innumerable policy areas and unparalleled dedication to their work.

 

In the winter term of 2020, A-level Economics and Politics students had the opportunity to partake in a Zoom event hosted by James Sproule, economics savant, political recalcitrant, and former SpAd to such redoubtable political figures as Theresa May.  The session began with a lecture delivered by Sproule, now Chief Economist at Handelsbanken UK, during which he explained the economics of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Sproule used High-Frequency Data projections to illustrate how the British economy slumped at the beginning of the crisis, experienced a brief period of recovery, before declining once again, simultaneously offering permeating insights into the decisions likely facing the government at this unprecedented time.  Sproule, a staunch Brexiteer, then went on to analyse the various future relationship possibilities between the UK and the EU, the benefits of a comprehensive trade deal and economic risks of a ‘no deal’ outcome and how it could impede the UK’s post-pandemic economic recovery.  The lecture then gave way to a Q&A session in which students pressed Sproule on his views on Brexit, foreign direct investment, and whether the current governing system in the UK is sufficiently adapted to dealing with crises such as COVID-19.

NC: 13 Oughton