SpAds: what’s the gender split?

The spotlight has been on women in politics -- or the lack of them. How do special advisers measure

The Cabinet Office has released the full list of special advisers to the coalition government and what they are paid.

The big headline from publication of the list was that Andy Coulson, the Prime Minister's director of communications, has agreed to a salary of £140,000, just £2,500 less than David Cameron.

Coulson, who was editor of the News of the World from 2003-2007, resigned as director of communications at Conservative Party headquarters to take the post at No 10. At CCHQ, he was paid £275,000, so his move to Downing Street comes at the price of a £135,000 pay cut.

Overall, the number of special adviser roles has been reduced from 78 to 68, with seven of the positions still vacant. It is thought that this reduction will reduce the annual wage bill for special advisers by up to £2m.

Following the general election and the announcement of the coalition cabinet, the debate about gender equality in politics has become more vociferous, both Alice Miles and Rowenna Davis in the New Statesman articulating dissatisfaction with the number of women in top roles.

Twenty-two per cent of MPs are now women, an increase of 2.5 per cent on 2005, and 4 per cent on 1997.

This imbalance among elected politicians seems to be reflected in the ranks of special advisers, with 22 of the posts held by women, just over half the number held by men.

The inequality is also reflected in the average salaries of male and female special advisers, with men earning £62,298 on average, while the average salary for female advisers is just under £3,750 less, at £58,552.

But it isn't all bad news. Of the ten highest-paid special advisers, four are women. Kate Fall, Cameron's deputy chief of staff, is the third-highest-paid special adviser, with a salary of £100,000. Other women in the top ten include the Tory press secretary Gabby Bertin, the former chief of staff to Nick Clegg Polly MacKenzie, and the Tories' head of operations, Liz Sugg.

Philippa Stroud, the Conservative candidate who sparked controversy over her membership of the New Frontiers Church and allegations in the Observer that she founded a project to "cure" homosexuals, is to be paid £69,250 in her new role as special adviser at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Despite being widely tipped as a Tory high-flyer, Stroud was beaten in Sutton and Cheam by the Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow, who won the seat with a majority of 1,608 votes.

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Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

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Why do the words “soup, swoop, loop de loop” come to mind every time I lift a spoon to my lips?

It’s all thanks to Barry and Anita.

A while ago I was lending a friend the keys to our house. We keep spare keys in a ceramic pot I was given years ago by someone who made it while on an art-school pottery course. “That’s er . . . quite challenging,” the friend said of the pot.

“Is it?” I replied. “I’d stopped noticing how ugly it is.”

“Then it’s a grunty,” she said.

“A what?” I asked.

“A grunty. It’s something you have in your house that’s hideous and useless but you’ve stopped noticing it completely, so it’s effectively invisible.”

I was much taken with this idea and realised that as well as “grunties” there are also “gruntyisms”: things you say or do, though the reason why you say or do them has long since been forgotten. For example, every time we drink soup my wife and I say the same thing, uttered in a strange monotone: we say, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop.” How we came to say “soup, swoop, loop de loop” came about like this.

For a married couple, the years between your mid-thirties and your late forties might be seen as the decade of the bad dinner party. You’re no longer looking for a partner, so the hormonal urge to visit crowded bars has receded, but you are still full of energy so you don’t want to stay in at night, either. Instead, you go to dinner parties attended by other couples you don’t necessarily like that much.

One such couple were called Barry and Anita. Every time we ate at their house Barry would make soup, and when serving it he would invariably say, “There we are: soup, swoop, loop de loop.” After the dinner party, as soon as we were in the minicab going home, me and Linda would start drunkenly talking about what an arse Barry was, saying to each other, in a high-pitched, mocking imitation of his voice: “Please do have some more of this delicious soup, swoop, loop de loop.” Then we’d collapse against each other laughing, convincing the Algerian or Bengali taxi driver once again of the impenetrability and corruption of Western society.

Pretty soon whenever we had soup at home, Linda and I would say to each other, “Soup, swoop, loop de loop,” at first still ridiculing Barry, but eventually we forgot why we were saying it and it became part of the private language every couple develop, employed long after we’d gratefully ceased having soupy dinners with Barry and Anita.

In the early Nineties we had an exchange student staying with us for a year, a Maori girl from the Cook Islands in the southern Pacific. When she returned home she took the expression “soup, swoop, loop de loop” with her and spread it among her extended family, until finally the phrase appeared in an anthropological dissertation: “ ‘Soup swoop, loop de loop.’ Shamanistic Incantations in Rarotongan Food Preparation Rituals” – University of Topeka, 2001. 

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt