Tom Richmond: A free piece of advice for PM – ditch the upstarts

DAVID Cameron once again finds himself suffering from an outbreak of foot-in-mouth after his promise “to cut the cost of politics” was added to the list of increasingly empty words returning to haunt the Prime Minister ahead of the election.

After the Tory leader was economical with the truth over immigration levels, English votes for English MPs and “boots on the ground” in Iraq – the theme of last week’s column – it now emerges that the Government employs 107 “special advisers” at a cost of £8.4m.

Not only has the expenditure for these minions increased by £1.2m in the past 12 months at a time when the rest of the country has been asked to accept significant savings to the public sector, but it is the sheer number of political pups answering to the Prime Minister and his deputy Nick Clegg that offends.

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The latest figures – grudgingly released by Commons leader William Hague – show the Tory leader has 26 whipper-snappers at his disposal while the Lib Dem leader can call upon 20 such advisers.

In comparison, there were just 71 “spads” in May 2010 when the Tory leader was making a virtue out of his promise “to cut the cost of politics”.

I wouldn’t mind the expense if Downing Street was a well-oiled machine with a firm grip on the country’s tiller, but it is not.

This is a coalition which is drifting towards next May’s election thanks, in no small part, to the policy whims of political advisers with little experience of life.

It should not be like this. Not only should such upstarts from university be encouraged to forge a successful career of their own where they have to prove their success in business, or their chosen profession, but their in-built superiority complex actually undermines the Civil Service – the very people who are paid to oversee the smooth running of government.

There’s a growing spat about whether two of Theresa May’s aides have been suspended from the Tory candidates list. I assume they’re the same people who advised her not to talk to the Association of Chief Police Officers boss Sir Hugh Orde about cuts.

There is confusion about whether such advisers can campaign in by-elections and evidence of “spads” using their influence to recruit individuals to Civil Service posts.

Yes, I accept that senior Ministers should be able to call upon the counsel of confidantes with unqualified expertise on certain policy matters, but the number of special advisers has gone too far – especially at a time when Whitehall’s bill for hiring private consultants is so high.

How many advisers does a politician need? My answer to this question is that if a Minister wishes to employ a special adviser, the salary and expense should be paid out of party funds and then David Cameron will, belatedly, be able to honour his promise to cut the cost of politics.

IT’S only fair to update readers on the latest election leaflet produced by Stuart Andrew after I noted that the Pudsey MP had made no mention of David Cameron in his previous pamphlet, presumably because he thinks the Tory leader has become an electoral liability.

Now Andrew says that he welcomes “the Prime Minister’s reforms” to control immigration. There’s also a mugshot of the PM and the Conservative Party’s logo does feature on this occasion, but the backbencher still can’t bring himself to write the words “David Cameron”.

I’m sure Ukip will be making the most of this in this bellwether Tory-Labour marginal.

TORY MP Sir Greg Knight makes a persuasive case for traffic lights on quiet country roads to be switched off at night – he says it will lead to shorter journey times and lower fuel bills for motorists.

However, I urge caution. Traffic lights exist for a very good reason – road safety – and the Department for Transport needs to recognise this when it responds to the East Yorkshire MP.

However, this should not preclude local authorities from being able to programme lights so they can prioritise traffic on those routes where congestion has built up.

Do you agree?

MICHAEL Dugher, the Barnsley MP and Shadow Transport Secretary, has bemoaned the lack of transparency when it comes to fuel prices – despite the continuing fall in the cost of petrol and diesel.

“We know that when oil prices go up, fuel prices go up. But when oil prices come down, as in recent months, it is not reflected in the prices people pay at the pumps,” said Dugher as he called for a wider inquiry.

Ironically, I remember the Tories making the same argument prior to the last election. Perhaps the two parties can work together to try to achieve their objectives.

HOW disappointing that the Football Association, in the week of the Christmas Truce’s centenary, has chosen not to take up my recent suggestion to rename the FA Cup in memory of Donald Simpson Bell, the Bradford Park Avenue footballer awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in the First World War.

It once again proves that the FA is as out of touch as those overpaid footballers who continue to besmirch the previously priceless concept of sportsmanship with their impersonations of Tom Daley that would not look out of place in an Olympic diving competition.

A shame.

HOW the mighty have fallen. Two months after divisive cricketer Kevin Pietersen published his latest book, a national newspaper is still trying to shift signed copies of the tome. A reflection on the batsman’s character – or the fact that cricket and celebrity are uncomfortable bedfellows?