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 assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.