Vir Cantium

I'm right, you know …

If You Want My Advice…

Independent advisers can play an important role in government, bringing in expertise that might otherwise be lacking were one to rely on the chance appearance of a specialist among the green or red benches of Parliament.

They can also play a less celebrated role in being able to spark public debate about controversial issues – the legalisation of drugs, to pick a not-so-random example – without the government being implicated in trying to push its own policy in that particular direction.

However, these two objectives can be undermined by two things: one is if the adviser, having given his advice and had that advice rejected, then begins to throw his toys out of the pram and publicly attacks the minister. Making your advice public is fine – indeed it aids the second objective of opening the wider debate – but to go into a huff when you don’t get your own way is overstepping the line, as well as making yourself appear somewhat puffed up with your own self-importance (that’s the job of us politicians!)

The other problem with advisers can come when they are not independent. If they are drawn from an existing lobby, campaigning group or “fake charity”, then not only will their appointment be making a statement (even if unintentionally) about the government’s underlying thinking on an issue, but it will be all the more difficult for the government to distance itself from that adviser when they do the job asked of them.

“Advisers advise, ministers decide”, goes the mantra … but it’s the comma in the middle that is the most critical part of the phrase.

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