If there’s one message Theresa May is keen to get across at the start of her premiership, it’s that she is not David Cameron. And what better way to do that than to arbitrarily cap the pay of the government’s political advisors? After Mr Cameron’s dishonourable honours list, which included an award for his wife’s personal shopper, it’s understandable that Mrs May wants to signal a break with the age of cronyism and government by chums. So she has capped the salary paid to special advisers, or spads, as they’re known in Westminster, at £72,000 a year. The only exceptions will be those explicitly approved by Downing Street. This might sound very worthy, but it’s actually meaningless gesture politics of exactly the kind that defined Mr Cameron’s period in office. The total bill for spads is peanuts in the grand scheme of things at about £9 million. Britain is almost unique among democracies in having so few political appointees in government and our ministers should be able to pay to get the best talent when they need it. The clearest sign that this pay cap is a bad idea is that Downing Street has already had to exempt Mrs May’s own most senior advisors, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, according to The Times. There could well be others who already fall outside its remit, since Downing Street’s new staff includes more than one former financial sector employee. If the limit set at the start is already too low for the most experienced and talented advisers in government, then what on earth is the point of it? It seems likely that this is just a way for Mrs May to exert control over her ministers. If only Downing Street has the authority to grant exemptions to the pay cap, then it means the Prime Minister can vet her ministers’ most senior appointments. This might make Mrs May feel more secure, but it’s only likely to cause resentment in the long-run. One might have expected better from Mrs May, who saw her spads attacked more than once during her time at the Home Office. Ms Hill had to leave her job after a spat with Michael Gove, while Mr Timothy and Stephen Parkinson were vindictively removed from the Conservative Party’s candidates list after a petty argument about with the Cameroons about campaigning rules. Trying to control ministers by targeting their advisers is no way to run a government. Of course, serving in government offers something more interesting than money – a chance to serve the country – so it doesn’t have to recruit people just on the basis of salary. There are plenty of bright, young things with talent but little experience who would jump at the chance of work in government and they are suitable for some of these roles. And there will always be naysayers who argue that, at nearly three times the country’s average wage, £72,000 is more than enough. The reality, however, is that recruiting qualified, experienced people in London over the age of 30, often with giant mortgages and children, is difficult. Many of these jobs involve helping to run the country at the highest level. Britain’s ministers should hire the best people they can get.