Even with 14 special advisers, Clegg is still struggling

Clegg's small army of political advisers has failed to halt the slide in his poll ratings.

As the Cabinet Office revealed yesterday, Nick Clegg now employs 14 special advisers at a cost of nearly £900,000 a year. (George Osborne, conversely, gets by with just four). The list below names them and their salaries, where they exceed £58,200.

There are good arguments for increasing the number of spads, as the coalition has done. In a misguided attempt to display its thriftiness, the government initially employed just 69. It now employs a far more sensible 81. Clegg, in particular, had a strong case for more support. As the Institute for Government noted back in September 2010, his office was under-resourced compared with those of other cabinet ministers and threatened to be overwhelmed by government business.

But it would be remiss not to note that Clegg's spads, employed to give political advice on policies and media, have failed to halt the slide in his approval ratings. The most recent YouGov/Sunday Times poll found that net approval with Clegg had reached a new low of -59, down from a heady +53 in the halcyon days of May 2010.

Clegg now employs 14 special advisers at a cost of nearly £900,000. Source: Cabinet Office.

Nick Clegg's net approval rating has fallen from +53 in May 2010 to a record low of -59. Graphic: Henrik Pettersson.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.