Left Watch

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Alan Milburn set to become latest Blairite to get job advising Coalition

By Tim Montgomerie

MILBURN-ALAN There is news this morning that former Health Secretary Alan Milburn may become the latest left-of-centre politician to advise the Coalition.

The BBC reports that David Cameron and Nick Clegg wish to take advantage of the research that Mr Milburn carried out in the last parliament on social mobility. Mr Milburn, a Blairite, is currently in Australia advising Julia Gillard on her re-election campaign.

He would become the latest in a series of left-of-centre people to become part of the Coalition's big tent;

  • Lord Browne, formerly of BP and a close friend of Tony Blair, is working with Francis Maude on Whitehall reform;
  • Frank Field MP is advising on the causes of poverty (today recommending (£) secular 'Christening' ceremonies);
  • David Halpern, former adviser to Blair, is to become part of a behavioural economics unit inside Downing Street.
  • John Hutton, former Work & Pensions Secretary, is advising George Osborne on public sector pensions;
  • Will Hutton is producing a report on how to implement David Cameron's plan for greater equality in public sector pay.

Tory strategists are convinced that these are all expert appointments that strengthen the Government. They also know that the public likes politicians behaving in a bipartisan way and that the willingness of left-of-centre politicians to put party politics aside enhances the Coalition's credentials. The Sunday Telegraph warns, however, that the Coalition should not be surprised if some of these advisers recommend left-wing solutions. Alan Milburn, for example:

"Mr Milburn was one of the boldest of the reformists around Tony Blair, and frequently stymied by Mr Brown's intransigence – but one of the most striking aspects of his report, which was written with a prominent Liberal Democrat, was its readiness to consider positive discrimination in favour of under-qualified university applicants from deprived backgrounds. That urge is surely inconsistent with Conservative principles, which hold that the best way to help the under-privileged is to create a genuine meritocracy: that means sweeping away the welfare dependency and inadequate education which keep the poorest in society from achieving their potential. While we understand the politics behind Mr Milburn's appointment, and the need to placate the Lib Dems, the Prime Minister must not agree to too many harmful compromises. To do so would be to damage his project of reviving Britain before it has properly begun."

Although there has been a rush to recruit Blairites it is striking that Philippa Stroud - formerly of the Centre for Social Justice - is the only senior centre right think tank head to join the Coalition (as Special Adviser to IDS at DWP). The Mail on Sunday reports that David Blunkett may join the Centre for Social Justice.