Labour protests after former Tory staffer is made Head of the PM's Appointments Unit

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Ashworth writes to Jeremy Heywood demanding to know how former Laura Wyld was appointed to the "politically impartial" post.

The news that Laura Wyld, who was recently appointed as Head of the Prime Minister's Appointments Unit, is a former Conservative campaigns officer has prompted understandable concern among Labour this morning.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Jon Ashworth has now written to the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, noting that the post is intended to be "politically impartial" and demading to know who oversaw the recruitment process and how many other former Conservative staffers are employed in civil service posts. His letter appears in full below. 

 

Sir Jeremy Heywood
Cabinet Secretary
10 Downing Street
London
SW1A 2AA
 
01-10-13
 
Dear Sir Jeremy,
 
I am writing regarding the recent appointment of the former Conservative Party staff member Laura Wyld as Head of the Prime Minister’s Appointments Unit.
 
You will understand the concern many will have that someone who has worked in a campaigning role for the Conservative Party has been given a post on the public payroll which is intended to be politically impartial, and which has responsibility for making public appointments on the basis of merit, not party political allegiance.
 
I hope that you will be able to answer the following questions to reassure the public.
 
Was the post of Head of the Prime Minister’s Appointments Unit publicly advertised with an open recruitment process?
 
Who oversaw the recruitment and employment process of the current Head of the Prime Minister’s Appointments Unit?
 
Would you please provide a full list of all appointments in which the Prime Minister’s Appointments Unit has played a role since May 2013?
 
How many other former Conservative Party employees are now employed in Civil Service posts, and how many of these were appointed following an open recruitment process?
 
This is a matter of public interest since the impartiality of the civil service is central to effective and fair governance. It is vital, therefore, that all rules are upheld.
 
I will be releasing a copy of this letter to the media.
 
I look forward to your response.
 
Yours sincerely,
 
Jonathan Ashworth MP
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office

 

David Cameron gets into his car as he leaves No. 10 Downing Street on April 18, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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