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There's a link between today's mudslinging...and the Coalition's special adviser cull

by Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-11-03 at 20.36.10 Billingsgate filth-slinging at Westminster today.

Splat!  Ed Miliband hurled a handful of mud at David Cameron today, accusing him of putting his personal photographer on the Government payroll.  Paul Staines agreed.  Paul Waugh pointed out that Downing Street claimed that it had tried to put him on a CCHQ salary.  Olly Grender said the arrangement shouldn't have been made.  Paul Waugh came back with news that a videographer was on the payroll as well, that Downing Street said that this arrangement was cheaper than hiring freelance workers, and that Michael Dugher, a new Labour MP and former Downing Street spokesman was pushing the issue.

Plop! By the late afternoon CCHQ was slinging back, pointing out that Gordon Brown hired an image consultant.  Roughly an hour ago, it put a figure on Labour spending on photographs and videos - £500,000.  Sayeeda Warsi issued a press release to that effect, also stating that Brown's image consultant cost some £40,000.  Michael Crick recently posted an blog entry stating that "In the past political parties would have retained some of their staff simply by...appointing them as special advisers. That's more difficult now, however, as the government has committed itself in the Coalition Agreement to "put a limit on the number on Special Advisers" [sic]."

Grender and others were concerned that Labour's gambit of turning the "personal photographer" into a totemic image of Cameron's Downing Street might work.  I suspect that it won't, and that Downing Street/CCHQ have enough mud in the locker to turn this into a no-score draw - another Westminster village story that most voters will greet, if aware of it at all, with shrugs of cynical indifference.

Crick's viewed by some Conservatives as a hostile commentator, but I think there's something in his point about special advisers.  Tim has argued previously that the restriction on their number is politically foolish and economically marginal.  I referred to the move as a form of unilateral disarmament, while he said that reversing the decision should be the Coalition's first U-turn.

All in all, exchanges of epic squalor.

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