Not wanting to heap worries onto the Prime Minister when he’s just about found harmony with his party, but as well as the underused backbenchers I mentioned this morning, he might want to think about his party’s PPSs as well. Some of them feel they were offered their jobs with the promise that the role would become ‘turbo-charged’, but haven’t found the reality quite so glamorous.
I hear that the last meeting Downing Street held for ministerial aides didn’t cheer many of them up. It wasn’t just that they were given a presentation on oral questions that most of them felt they’d heard about a year ago, or that the PM wasn’t there for very long, but that the chief whip gave a presentation which left the group with the impression that they were also expected to act as ‘spies’ on their ministers as well.
Traditionally PPSs are expected to serve as a conduit between their minister and the party’s backbench: picking up concerns, distributing ‘dear colleague’ letters explaining unpopular policies, and arranging meetings for possible rebels. But those at the meeting were unhappy with the idea that instead of protecting their ministers, they are expected to pass on ‘intelligence’ about what their boss is up to. One MP, who described the session as ‘awful’, also points out that the whips attend departmental meetings, and so should know what ministers are cooking up without having to rely on the surveillance of a colleague on the first rung of the ministerial ladder.