Reading the various articles and blog posts (such as Lord Tyler’s post in Lords of the Blog) about the Damian McBride affair, my mind keeps coming back to the use of the term ‘Spad’ (or ‘SpAd’, or however one chooses to write it) as an abbreviation of ‘special adviser’. As both a political and trainspotting anorak, I have to say that I can’t read ‘Spad’ without thinking of the railway use of SPAD: Signal Passed At Danger.
In this case, as I commented in Lords of the Blog, the trainspotting term seems surprisingly apt to describe this situation. A whole series of extended metaphors could be employed about special advisers ‘misjudging the braking distance’ — or more wicked ones that might refer to ministers or civil servants as ‘dim or dark signals’. But again, as with automatic signals, signals can be passed at danger if drivers receive explicit clearance from a signal operator (a minister, perhaps?). I wonder, would it be worth looking to the new rules and technology established by the railways after the 1999 Ladbroke Grove crash for even a hint of guidance on how to proceed with a suitable code for the SPADs in Westminster and Whitehall?
Or perhaps I’ll just go back to my line diagrams and/or book reviews, and leave the political commentary to my fellow anoraks.