Westminster, Whitehall and…what?

Whitehall street signIt’s easy to be baffled by the world of government and politics – a puzzle of organisations and personalities packed with its very own traditions, rules and language. But it’s world that’s worth a closer look. Behind the stuffy image, it offers some really interesting roles and the chance to shape how we live today.

The civil service is one of the largest employers in the UK. It  helps the government to think through their ideas and make them happen and provides a range of public services based across the country, such as  Job Centre Plus and the coastguard. Civil servants work for the government in power.

Watch video story: public sector economist

Shorthand…that’s not really any shorter!

Whitehall aka government

The road which runs from the Houses of Parliament to Trafalgar Square is called Whitehall. Several government departments are based along the road, and Downing Street runs directly off it, so the term Whitehall is sometimes used to refer to government.

Westminster aka parliament

Westminster is an area in central London but can also mean parliament. This is because the Houses of Parliament, together with Westminster Abbey and some other buildings, are also know as the Palace of Westminster.

Members of Parliament (MPs) each represent a geographical area of the UK called a constituency. MPs sometimes employ researchers, admin and campaign staff or take on interns to support them in their work.  Jobs can be based at the House of Commons or at the MPs’ local constituency office.

The Houses of Parliament is made up of the House of Commons (where MPs from all parties sit) and the House of Lords (where the Lords sit).  Aside from MPs and Lords, Parliament employs over 2000 people in a wide range of support roles from committee clerks to Hansard reporters.

Watch video story: Lord Richard Newby

Government departments (such as Health, Defence or the Home Office) are made up of a Secretary of State and several Ministers – usually all elected MPs drawn from the party in power.  Ministers are supported by a team of civil servants.  As civil servants are not allowed to act in a party political way, Ministers usually appoint special advisors to work across policy (what the Government is going to do) and party politics.

Political parties such as The ConservativesLabourLiberal Democrats also have people on the payroll. Jobs  here include looking after party membership, and developing policy and campaign strategy (how a party plans to win the next election).

Thinktanks are organisations which look at issues and try to shape policy. They regularly publish reports and are interested in ideas and solving problems.  Some thinktanks are linked to a particular political party; others are not. Examples include Demos, Policy Exchange and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) – take a look at the staff profiles on their websites to get a better sense of the job types they offer.

Watch video story: researcher and consultant

Lobbying or public affairs is about trying to influence public policy.  Lobbyists can work in-house – often in campaigning organisations – or as part of specialist or public relations consultancies such as Weber Shandwick  or Bell Pottinger.

Watch video story: public affairs manager