Ministers, Minders and Mandarins
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Ministers, Minders and Mandarins

An International Study of Relationships at the Executive Summit of Parliamentary Democracies

Edited by Richard Shaw and Chris Eichbaum

Ministers, Minders and Mandarins collects the leading academics in the field to rigorously assess the impact and consequences of political advisers in parliamentary democracies. The 10 contemporary and original case studies focus on issues of tension, trust and tradition, and are written in an accessible and engaging style.
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Chapter 11: Special advisers in the United Kingdom: tensions in Whitehall

Andrew Blick


Special advisers to ministers have been in use in the United Kingdom (UK) since 1964. They are now a firmly established part of the system of government. Yet they remain capable of generating controversy. Moreover, their status has an anomalous quality: they are employed as civil servants, yet performing roles not generally associated with civil servants and exempt from regular civil service rules. They help to manage a tension within the UK constitution arising because ministers are held individually responsible for their portfolios and departments, yet are supported in their departments by a permanent civil service that does not have a direct personal and party-political connection to them. Difficulties can develop if special advisers come to be seen as comprising a new tier of authority surrounding the minister they support, separating them from other civil servants and their departments. The role played by special advisers suggests a need for a more nuanced view of the part played by bureaucratic development in the historical emergence and sustenance of democracy.

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