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Special Adviser-Bashing Is Lazy and Overplayed

07/01/2016 11:57 GMT | Updated 07/01/2017 10:12 GMT

If there's one thing more fashionable in Westminster than a pair of wellies and a train ticket to the north of England then it's to bash a "special adviser" turned politician. In the era of the New Authenticity, Jeremy Corbyn is the antidote to the shiny suit generation of David Cameron, Ed Miliband and others - Oxbridge graduates who've made it to the top table by way of an anonymous think tank and making sure a minister puts his trousers on the right way in the morning. Or something.

Diane Abbott was at it last night. The Labour MP and Corbyn ally labelled shadow ministers quitting on their leader as ex-"special advisers" as if they were the devil incarnate. One named, Jonathan Reynolds, hit back - suggesting his colleague should check her facts as that wasn't him.

The "special adviser" pariah status is an odd one. As voters complain about feeling increasingly remote from the political process, just brandish a picture of a young David Cameron in an ill-fitting suit carrying Norman Lamont's water and offer: "Look at this buffoon. He's not like you and me." But I'm not quite sure what's to be ashamed of.

david cameron norman lamont

When Charles Kennedy passed away last year, he was universally and rightly praised for devoting his life to politics. The phrase "career politician" never came up. Is it so reprehensible to make sure a minister hits all his marks compared to being an MP in your 20s? Or a councillor, or any political job?

Plenty of "special advisers" or SPADs I've encountered have life stories far more fleshed-out than the chinless wonders portrayed on The Thick of It. And while politicians bang on about apprenticeships, they often undersell their own. Some are naturals, as you get with every industry. But there is a craft to be learned. On the Westminster shopfloor you can get to grips with procedure, policy development, media and constituency duties. If you don't think that's important then witness the shambles surrounding Labour's reshuffle and know the party has seen an exodus of well-honed talent since the election.

Sure, there's a case for Parliament looking and sounding more like modern Britain. But it doesn't take much digging around to discover there's plenty of that. The Huffington Post series on the 2015 intake shows many are just as obsessed with Star Wars as the rest of us. Labour's Jess Phillips who worked with women's refuges. Conservative Alan Mak who lived above a shop. The SNP's Stephen Gethins who helped recover missing weapons in the Balkans. Evidence of a "Spadocracy" has been thin on the ground.

SPAD-bashing is lazy and overplayed. I think we'd be kidding ourselves if we thought it was a good idea bright young people shouldn't get involved in politics until they've got a welding qualification. They now might decide not to bother at all.