I've written before about my fears relating to the ability of a new Conservative government to drive forward its agenda in the face of opposition from recalcitrant civil servants. These fears are exacerbated by Conservative plans to halve the number of political advisers. Many people think that this is a decision which could come back to haunt David Cameron.
Labour has doubled the number of special advisers since 1997. Clearly this has gone too far, but the Conservatives shouldn't underestimate the role they have been able to play in driving through Labour's agenda. If the Tories haven't got the same resources available to them, they shouldn't be so naive as to think that ministers will be able to do it all by themselves.
So here's an idea. If there is a Conservative government with a reasonable majority, it is important to find things for backbenchers to do, if only to keep them out of mischief. So my suggestion is this. Instead of appointing one PPS to a Cabinet Minister, each one should have two. They would be unpaid (as now), but one of them would effectively fulfil the role of a second special adviser. The advantages to a Cabinet Minister are clear, but it would also be good for more backbenchenchers to gain experience of how government operates. These PPS's should be carefully chosen, rather than the random process which exists currently. Ideally, they should have some knowledge of the subject area of the department they would be working within.
PPSs need to be more than the proverbial bag carrier. They also need to be more than a Minister's eyes and ears in Parliament. A second PPS in a department will need to augment the work of the Minister's SPAD and to take on an light enforcer and progress chasing role.
UPDATE: Some interesting comments. The way to avoid increasing the payroll vote is to reduce the number of ministers in the first place. Also, Jimmy's point is (as usual) fatuous as nowehere was I advocating that each and every Minister should have their own dual PPSs. PPSs are normally only allocated to Cabinet Ministers and perhaps five or six senior Ministers of State.