Tue 21 September 2021

The drive is as much aimed at reducing Labour-supporting individuals as trying to remove the “The blob”, reports David Hencke

A former director of the Vote Leave campaign has been appointed by Downing Street to lead a drive to appoint more Conservatives to top quango jobs as part of a move to secure a majority of them in Whitehall.

Alex Hickman – who was appointed as a special advisor to Boris Johnson on business, appointments and honours in May – has also been given responsibility by the Prime Minister’s office for seeking out Conservatives suitable for the top jobs.

Hickman is the former chief executive of Open Europe and, for the four months leading up to the 2016 EU Referendum, was outreach director for Vote Leave, run by Dominic Cummings, now Johnson’s chief advisor. Hickman is also a non-executive director of NorthBank Talent Management – a literary, business and thought leaders agency – which represents Mark Wallace, the chief executive of ConservativeHome, and many journalists, authors and broadcasters.

The drive to appoint more Conservatives is as much aimed at reducing Labour-supporting individuals as trying to remove the “The blob” – the term Cummings uses to describe the ‘liberal establishment’ – from Whitehall altogether.

Writing in its newsletter last week, Henry Hill, an assistant editor of ConservativeHome, said: “Appointments are now recognised as an important legacy issue, as many of the appointees will considerably outlast the Secretary of State who appointed them or, indeed, the Government.

“Work is also underway on the political side to create more Conservative Campaign HQ support for would-be appointees, with the goal of building a ‘talent pool’ and helping to steer suitable candidates towards particular appointments as they emerge, as well as to be a bit more strategic about when appointments are made (some think one reason Toby Young was forced out of the Office for Students was because the story broke at a quiet point in the news cycle).”

Some 1,800 people are appointed or re-appointed to quangos every year but the latest report from the Commissioner of Public Appointments, Peter Riddell, states that only 9% declared significant party political activity. Of these, some 54% were affiliated to Labour and 36% to the Conservatives. But the vast majority – some 90% – were not active members of political parties. These are the positions that now seem to be in Cummings’ sights as they tend to be part of the ‘liberal establishment’.

The last battle over the issue came under the then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2016 when his Culture Secretary John Whittingdale was attacked by Riddell’s predecessor, Sir David Normington, after the minister insisted that the right-wing historian Andrew Roberts be appointed to a post at the National Portrait Gallery rather than the liberal historian Simon Schama.


Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.

At the time, the journalist Charles Moore attacked the system – saying that ministers were right to intervene. “Isn’t it positively right that ministers should use public appointments – and even, though in a much more restricted way, senior Civil Service appointments – to look for people who can advance their aims and reject those determined to retard them?” he observed.

ConservativeHome is highlighting all the latest quango appointments in its daily newsletter – the latest being for the Children’s Commissioner – and urging Conservatives to apply.


Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include Brexit, Empire & the culture war, Russian interference, Coronavirus, cronyism and far right radicalisation. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.

More stories filed under Reportage