Theresa May’s plans to limit both the number of special advisers and the way in which they are appointed are rather curious, given how influential and essential her own advisers were when she ran the Home Office. As I explained in the magazine recently, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill held a great deal of power in that department, and not just when it came to briefing the media. They were an essential part of the running of the Home Office and its many arms-length bodies such as the Border Force.
Yet we read today that Hill and Timothy are vetting appointments to ensure that no new special advisers will be likely to brief against the Prime Minister, and that May wants to limit each minister to just two advisers, even though she had three – Hill, Timothy and Stephen Parkinson – working for her at one point. Hill and Timothy will also be well aware of how much damage advisers who are hostile to the Number 10 operation can do. Timothy was known for bunking off the regular meetings that David Cameron’s director of communications Craig Oliver held for special advisers as he (and many of the other advisers who continued to turn up) felt they were a bit pointless. But rather more dramatically, Hill (who also had a poor relationship with Oliver) resigned from her job after a confidential memo from Michael Gove was published on the Home Office website in the middle of a row between May and the then Education Secretary.
One of the reasons May has survived this long in politics and in the toughest job outside of Downing Street is that she had fiercely competent advisers – and more than two of them. It would be odd for her to stop other ministers from thriving in the same way that she did.