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Tuesday 28th June 2011 | 08:59
As he prepares for possibly a bruising party conference, Ed Miliband needs all the friends he can get right now.
So it is perhaps a bit of a surprise that Labour is storing up trouble for its own spads (special advisers*) - by imposing charges on them for this year's shindig in Liverpool.
I hear that the Leader and Deputy Leader's staff have their costs covered from party coffers, but everyone else is having to pay for themselves.
The whole issue has been "very, very badly handled" by outgoing party general secretary Ray Collins, one spad whispers, and the bad blood is so severe that it may be raised at Shadow Cabinet today.
Of course, a spad boycott of conference is unlikely but there is discontent that around a couple of dozen loyal and not well paid staff face having to fork out at least £500 for hotel and travel fees just to do their job, while 'the court of Ed M and Harriet H' go free.
None of the spads expects a freebie but they did want some help with costs and view the issue as a 'two-tier' set of terms and conditions that the party wouldn't tolerate in any public service.
There is a wider issue here about the way the Leader's office has hoovered up Short Money and some Shadow ministers grumble they are overstretched.
Critics are bound to point out that Short Money (ie taxpayers' cash) shouldn't be used to give party hacks a cut-price conference jolly at a time of fiscal austerity. But there are claims that even the Tories funded their spads' costs at conference while in Opposition (can anyone help me here?).
Spads in all parties feel a little beleaguered at the best of times. Maybe it's time for them to form a trade union...?
*FOOTNOTE: Technically speaking, Labour's 'spads' are actually 'pads'. Spads lose their 'special' tag when a party loses power.
UPDATE: A senior Labour source plays a straight bat:
“We absolutely value what political advisors for Shadow Ministers do to hold this Tory-led Government to account. Conference is such a huge event, that it’s just not possible for Labour to cover everyone’s costs.”
Meanwhile, a Tory spad tells me that they always got their hotel accommodation paid for while in Opposition. "We wouldn't have gone otherwise!" they say.
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