Cameron abandons hands-off approach to government

Prime Minister appoints nine new policy advisers, despite vow to end “control freakery” of Labour ye

Back in May 2009, David Cameron pledged an end to policies "dreamt up on the sofa at No 10 Downing Street", promising to limit the number of politically appointed special advisers and to end the "control freakery" that marked the Blair/Brown years.

Famous last words? Cameron has now appointed nine new policy advisers to help him keep a tighter grip on cabinet ministers as he abandons his hands-off approach to government.

The new team will be made up of six civil servants and three experts from the private sector. They will keep an eye on government departments in an attempt to head off disasters such as the proposed privatisation of Britain's forests before they hit the headlines.

It's a marked change of tack for the Prime Minister, who has proudly described himself as the "chairman" of the coalition and who, in the first nine months of governing, took a remarkably uninvolved approach.

However, aides now admit that ministers may have been given too much leeway to draw up and announce policies without No 10 knowing the full details. A series of embarrassing U-turns – on forests, free books for children and school sports budgets – compounded this.

Last month, Andrew Grice quoted an ally of Cameron's saying:

We need to stop things being announced before they have been road-tested. We need to spot the problems before proposals are in the public domain, not afterwards.

This new unit of policy advisers will aim to do just that. Technically, it will not breach Cameron's self-imposed limit on the number of special advisers, as they will be employed as civil servants (a loophole that has caught Cameron out before).

It completes a radical overhaul of the machinery of Downing Street. The BBC executive Craig Oliver has now taken over from Andy Coulson as director of communications. And Andrew Cooper, the Populus pollster, has started in the newly created role of strategy director, in which he will be responsible for giving the government's policies greater coherence.

The Times (£) reports the following appointments to the team:

  • Tim Luke: the former Lehman Brothers analyst is one of the three external appointments, and will cover enterprise, trade and technology.
  • The other two (as yet unnamed) will cover health, energy and the environment.
  • Paul Kirby: this former partner with the accountancy firm KPMG will be head of policy development. One of his main tasks will be ensuring that the government delivers on its commitments on public-service reform.
  • Kris Murrin: having worked for the Downing Street delivery unit under Tony Blair, and then on Tory business plans in opposition, she will be head of policy implementation.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.