Boris Johnson ushers in radical new era of special advisers – The Guardian
They’re young, they’re ambitious, and many are of a libertarian bent. A new cadre of special advisers has entered Downing Street and various ministries under the regime of Boris Johnson, suggesting radical rightwing thought and true believers in hard Brexit are in the ascendancy.
The biggest contingency in Downing Street is made up of alumni from the successful campaign to leave the EU. Dominic Cummings, the orchestrator of Vote Leave, leads eight of the group’s former staffers in Downing Street, including Lee Cain, now director of communications; Rob Oxley, the prime minister’s press secretary; and Oliver Lewis, a policy expert.
But one of the most radical appointments is Munira Mirza, who heads Johnson’s policy unit after serving as his deputy mayor for arts for eight years. Her appointment to such a senior job in charge of all policy was unexpected given her lack of experience in Westminster politics.
Her background is unusual: she has links to a circle of former Revolutionary Communist Party supporters who wrote for Living Marxism, then morphed into libertarian provocateurs involved with Spiked online magazine.
Over the years, she has been a prominent critic of multiculturalism as a government policy, opposing Theresa May’s racial disparities audit for public services by claiming the “scene was being set for another bout of political self-flagellation regarding the subject of race in Britain”. She is also co-founder of the Manifesto Club, a pressure group challenging the “erosion of public freedoms”.
Several Johnson appointees have a history at free marketeer thinktanks. Chloe Westley, a new digital adviser, worked for Vote Leave and the TaxPayers’ Alliance, making a name for herself on Twitter as @LowTaxChloe. She appears in online videos attempting to mock Corbynite socialism, and was involved in Turning Point, a student pressure group dedicated to “free markets, limited government and personal responsibility”. Within days of appointing Westley, Johnson was facing calls to reverse the decision after it emerged she had praised the work of a far-right, anti-Islam politician.
The appointment of Ross Kempsell, a journalist, as a No 10 policy special adviser focusing on public sector reform was also unexpected considering he has no background in that area. Kempsell made a big splash during Johnson’s leadership campaign with an interview as TalkRadio political editor that got his new boss to say Brexit would be carried out “do or die” by 31 October. He is also a former chief reporter for the GuidoFawkes website.
Another unexpected entrant to No 10 is the political secretary to the prime minister – Danny Kruger, who stood down as a Tory candidate in 2005 under Michael Howard after causing controversy by saying he thought there should be a “period of creative destruction in the public services”. He has since worked for the Legatum Institute, which has been influential among Brexiters; as a leader writer for the Daily Telegraph; and speechwriter for David Cameron in opposition.
Kruger has suggested that cannabis should be decriminalised, as has Blair Gibbs, another former TaxPayers’ Alliance staffer entering No 10 as a policy expert. Gibbs was poached from a current job leading policy at the Centre for Medicinal Cannabis, and has promoted the Canadian model of legalisation.
Outside No 10, Liz Truss has handed her special adviser roles to two women from the world of rightwing thinktanks. Sophie Jarvis, a former Adam Smith Institute head of government and Evening Standard diary reporter, is her new trade policy adviser, while Nerissa Chesterfield has joined her as a media adviser from the Institute of Economic Affairs.
However, Ryan Shorthouse, the director of the Bright Blue thinktank for liberal conservativism, said the new No 10 administration did not easily fit any one prescribed ideology.
“The three priorities are more funding for the NHS, tax cuts for the lowest paid and a points-based immigration system. It will feel like that kind of white-van man, blue collar conservatism on steroids,” he said.
“Dominic Cummings is somebody who is very focused on that and thinks politically that is where the Tories need to pick up more votes. But it’s very hard to put a label on him like libertarian or one nation. He is bothered about winning and appealing to the right type of voters.”
He said he believed there would be a “move fiscally to the left” by ending austerity with more spending on police, the NHS and schools, combined with a relatively liberal approach to immigration and a more rightwing agenda in terms of cutting taxes.
“The sort of hardline thing is Brexit and in terms of special advisers, Dominic wants true believers: leave-supporting special advisers in post and ministers completely signed up. It is a Vote Leave government,” he said.
This article originally appeared here in https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/aug/05/boris-johnson-ushers-in-radical-new-era-of-special-advisers