Total number of British Soldiers killed in Afghanistan = 419
Uncorrected Hansard of PASC meeting on special advisers.
Paul Flynn: Five hours after Chris Huhne retired, you were thrown on to the funeral pyre, Mr Brack. This is all pretty brutal, isn’t it? Could you explain to me about the role? You describe yourselves as “the guardians of the manifesto”. You were there to protect the interests of the people who voted Liberal Democrat in the election. On Chris Huhne’s website, which he has not changed in four years, there are a number of issues on which he has very strong ideas. One of them is nuclear power, which he described as being successful only in conning billions of pounds out of the electorate for no useful purpose. When you came into office as guardians of the Liberal manifesto, but also part of the coalition, were you both lobotomised to cut away any intelligent ideas that you might have carried over into your coalition job, or did you both suddenly discover that nuclear power was wonderful?
Duncan Brack: There are quite a lot of questions there. The “guardians of the manifesto” quotation is from the Labour Government under Harold Wilson, 1964‑70. This was the first time special advisers were systematically used. Indeed, this is what I learned about when I did my master’s in politics and administration. After 13 years of the previous government, it was felt that Ministers perhaps needed some political support to impose their priorities on Departments that perhaps were not inclined to change course.
What I should have realised, and I think I mentioned this in the article that I wrote that you are quoting from, is that, when we came in, in most cases—probably apart from the single issue that you have referred to—in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, we did not really have a problem with what they were doing. We were not trying to change direction very radically in the Department, so there was not much of a struggle between us and the civil servants. That was not what occupied my time.
Paul Flynn: Your main job, we understand, is communicating with other special advisers and so on. Would you like to describe your position, which is the Liberal Democrat position, on energy? You have just suggested there was a difference there. How much success did you have in converting the special advisers to Tory Ministers?
Duncan Brack: I would not say my main job was communicating with special advisers. That was one of the things I did, and it was one of the things I was slightly surprised about: spending so much time talking to special advisers in other Departments. It may be different in other Departments, but I think it is because climate change policy cuts across so many other areas and so many other Departments are important to it. To be honest, most of the discussions that we or I had with special advisers in other Departments were really on straight departmental lines. You would not have known which party the special adviser was from.
Paul Flynn: Finally, Mr Brack, you were not disturbed, when you were in office, by the impossibility of the promise to deliver nuclear power without subsidies. We saw £390 million last weekend on education; we have seen three nuclear power stations that are uninsurable, so the taxpayer has to pay the cost. There is a long list of subsidies that have been paid for nuclear power. Why didn’t you and your Minister resign over that?
Duncan Brack: I think that is going a bit beyond the remit of this inquiry, isn’t it, if I may suggest?
Paul Flynn: No, no; you are among friends now. It does seem to be a matter of where were you, with a strong Liberal Democrat policy? Clearly the coalition is charging off in a different direction. What do you do, go along with it? You are the guardians of the manifesto.
Chair: The question is that, as a special adviser, you are presented with this kind of conflict. What does it feel like and how do you advise your Minister?
Duncan Brack: During the period I was there, which obviously ended in early February, I and Chris Huhne were determined to make sure that the coalition agreement, which is that new nuclear stations should not go ahead without public subsidy, was stuck to. It is true to say that is one of the areas where perhaps I had more robust discussions with civil servants in the Department who, from governments of both parties over previous years, had been fairly committed to a nuclear pathway. I had to remind them, and suggested some changes of wording in various memos and submissions, of the bit about no public subsidy for nuclear.
Paul Flynn: We look forward to your memoirs, which I hope will be swiftly written.