Headlines: June 3rd, 1997

The rash of political appointments in Whitehall has brought charges of politicising the Civil Service. John Major said: “More political appointments have been made in the last month than in the previous 18 years.” A list of special advisers appointed since the general election and published by the Cabinet Office, contains 50 names.The list includes Jonathan Powell, Blair’s chief of staff. Powell’s appointment has triggered controversy about where the dividing line between the Civil Service and political advisers should be drawn. It is thought that he was due to take over the role of principal private secretary to the prime minister. The post is currently held by Alex Allen who formerly served John Major. Following a protest from Sir Robin Butler, head of the Civil Service, there was a denial from the prime minister’s office of any plan to encroach on Civil Service territory. In this case the dividing line is being maintained.

Peter Lilley, former Social Services minister expressed concern for the machinery of government and for Civil Servants. He said: “The growth in the number of political appointments is changing the way the machinery of government operates and it is also causing anxiety among Civil Servants.”

Sir Michael Brett, head of the Civil Service Commissioners, said there were strict limits on the numbers of special adviser posts and expressed concern at the prospect of any more. He said: “If there was a horde of political appointees being made civil servants, they would not be being made on the principle of fairness and open competition.”

The Government stoutly defended the appointments. Peter Mandelson, Minister without Portfolio, responsible for co-ordinating and presenting policies, said the appointments strengthened “the centre of government” and would enable it to carry out its manifesto pledges. David Clark, Minister for Public Services, said the distinction between political advisers in Whitehall and permanent Civil Servants had been a grey area. “We want to be more open about it,” he said. He insisted that the Government would sustain the tradition of a “professional and impartial Civil Service”.