SPADs have “little idea how toxic some of their ideas can be,” says Whitehall source

Janet Downs's picture
Special advisors in Number 10’s new political policy unit are “very smart people”, a Whitehall source told the Times*, “but I worry they have little idea how toxic some of their ideas can be when they hit the media.”

The source was commenting on the U-turn over a proposal that foreign pupils should be able to buy places in English state schools. The Times had uncovered the plan, hidden in a “restricted” letter from the Prime Minister’s office early in July. The letter, which the Times published in full, discussed the “export potential” of academies.

The Times said newly-appointed special adviser, Daniel Korski, has been blamed for the idea. Korski was formerly an advisor to Andrew Mitchell MP the former Conservative Chief Whip, one-time chief of staff for Lord Paddy Ashdown and described by the Times as “spin doctor” for Baroness Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

The Prime Minister had “agreed to drop the suggestion”, the Times revealed*, after expressing anger that the idea had been allowed to surface. It’s unclear whether the PM was angry because a special adviser had come up with a “toxic” idea or whether it was because the idea had become public. Either way the notion was roundly condemned by the LibDems and other Whitehall departments. The Home Office warned that the policy could cause problems with visas and risked giving out mixed messages on immigration. The Department for Education said the suggestion was unwise at a time when there was a shortfall in school places.

This raises the question about how many other “toxic” ideas are incubating in Downing Street’s policy unit. Let’s hope that good investigative journalism will continue to expose them.

*27 July 2013, behind paywall

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