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Theresa’s Ten

While the media focus is on the people walking up and down Downing Street to hear about their new roles, the other people affected by a reshuffle are the ranks of Number 10 and departmental Special Advisers. Jill Rutter looks at the emerging appointments.

It appears that Theresa May has made a clean sweep of advisers in Number 10. Her long-time aides, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, are now joint Chiefs-of-Staff, a role first created by Tony Blair for Jonathan Powell and carried on by David Cameron for Ed Llewellyn. The advantage is that not only do the appointees know their boss well, but they can meld the Prime Minister’s political role with their government one. The last time there was dual leadership at the top of the Private Office was when Gordon Brown brought Stephen (now Lord) Carter in from business to be his Chief-of-Staff alongside Jeremy Heywood – not surprisingly that was a competition that the Whitehall veteran quickly won. But having worked so long for Theresa May in the Home Office together, the prospects for this job share are much brighter. Meanwhile, civil servants in the Private Office will offer continuity and institutional memory – for now at least. Theresa May has also appointed John Godfrey to be Director of Policy, and he will want to assemble a team quickly. There are different approaches to staffing the Policy Unit. If the Prime Minister wants to use it to promote specific policy priorities, she may want to appoint some big hitters who can go head-to-head with secretaries of state in possibly recalcitrant departments. But if the PM sees the Policy Unit primarily as a source of intelligence gathering and control, she will want people who can act effectively as her eyes and ears across Whitehall. The first months of coalition saw slip-ups as the Policy Unit was underpowered, not least because of David Cameron’s slightly naïve commitment before taking office to limit the numbers of special advisers (a commitment his immediate predecessor had made as well – and then reneged on when the realities of life at No.10 hit home). Since much of Theresa May’s leadership launch was about a new approach to economic policy, it will be interesting to see if she appoints a high-profile economic adviser. The Treasury has usually been very resistant to No.10 incursions into economic policy and has tried as far as possible to cut No.10 economic advisers out of their discussions. It can be worse than a cold shoulder: it was bust-ups between Nigel Lawson and Margeret Thatcher’s personal economic adviser, Sir Alan Walters, that started her fall from power. Theresa May will also have views, formed from her experience in government, on special advisers to her Cabinet colleagues. She was, after all, forced by No.10 to sacrifice Ms Hill (then Fiona Cunningham) as fall-out from her very public row over extremism with Michael Gove. All departmental special advisers (known as Spads) lose their jobs when their Secretary of State moves. Some, especially those with close relationships to individuals, move with them to a new department. Others, who are more subject specialists, may find themselves reappointed in the next few days by an incoming Secretary of State. But all appointments have to be approved by the PM. She may want to try to use her power of approval to prevent others appointing advisers who will make her life more difficult. Tony Blair tried to do this in 1997, but even at the height of his power was too weak to prevent Gordon Brown bringing Charlie Whelan into government with him. It will be interesting to see if the May government signals a change of direction on the use of advisers. The good news for Theresa May is that she can draw on her six years of top-level experience to reflect on what works – and what doesn’t. Best of all, she has not arrived in No.10 saddled with commitments made before she took over that she might live to regret.

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