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Margaret Thatcher didn't need hundreds of advisers – and neither does Boris - by Norman Blackwell

Updated: Feb 10, 2022

Writing in today's Telegraph, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and John Major describes how the huge rise in staff now employed as part of the Downing Street operation may be contributing to the culture of chaos surrounding the PM. Lord Blackwell was head of John Major's policy unit in the early 1990's since when it has more than quadrupled in size:

"One of the most astonishing things to come out of the debate in the House of Commons on Sue Gray’s “update” was the revelation by Boris Johnson that there are now more than 400 staff working in the Prime Minister’s Office.

When I worked in No 10 under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher and then John Major, there were fewer than 100 people there – and most of them were secretaries and typists. The policy unit I ran in the 1990s had somewhere between six and eight members coordinating policy across the whole of Whitehall."

A slimmed down operation is vital so that those acting on behalf of the PM know what he is thinking:

"A crucial and often overlooked part of the role for those working in No 10 is to act as missionaries or proxies for the prime minister across Whitehall, operating effectively to ensure that the Civil Service is aligned with and delivering on his priorities.

To fulfil these functions effectively, those acting in the prime minister’s name have to have sufficient personal contact with the PM that they are able to understand intuitively the view he or she would be likely to take on any issue, and are able then to represent that authoritatively in their dealings with other ministers, officials and external contacts."

A streamlined operation would also make for better government:

"The building up of staff within No10 works against the spirit of collective Cabinet government. Boris Johnson does not need a galaxy of experts in his own office – he and his staff can call upon any minister or civil servant across Whitehall to provide information, analysis and advice at his request."

The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:

Article for the Telegraph by Norman Blackwell - Margaret Thatcher didn't need hundreds of
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