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New life at the top: special advisers in British government

LSE GV314 Group, and Page, Edward C. (2012) New life at the top: special advisers in British government. Parliamentary Affairs, 65 (4). pp. 715-732. ISSN 0031-2290

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Identification Number: 10.1093/pa/gss011


While the position of special advisers (SpAds) in British government has become routinised, above all since 1997, we still know little about how they affect everyday life at the top of Whitehall departments. This paper, based on the first ever survey of SpAds, explores what they do and how they interact with policy-makers. SpAds fill a mix of ‘commissar’ and ‘fixer’ roles, and there is no evidence of a sharp division of labour between different types of SpAds. The commissar role they fill might be expected to bring SpAds into conflict with civil servants, yet there is surprisingly little evidence of conflict or rivalry. A variety of features of the special adviser's job appear to create incentives among both SpAds and civil servants to avoid conflict with each other. Since the influence of SpAds appears to depend on their relationship with the minister, claims that SpAds are a new, powerful group that shapes policy, are likely to be highly misleading.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2012 Oxford University Press
Divisions: Government
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe) > JN101 Great Britain
Sets: Departments > Government
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2016 13:46
Last Modified: 20 May 2019 01:23

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