“Education secretary Michael Gove has been plunged into a potentially toxic row over allegations that members of his department have used the social networking site Twitter to launch highly personal attacks on journalists and political opponents and to conduct a Tory propaganda campaign paid for by the taxpayer.
The allegations raise questions about senior members of Gove’s team and have prompted concerns in the Tory party about the role of ministerial special advisers.
An anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation is regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department. It is often abreast of imminent Tory policies, suggesting it is coming from close to the centre of government. However, it is also used to rubbish journalists and Labour politicians while promoting Gove’s policies and career. Issuing party political material and indulging in personal attacks are both clear breaches of the special advisers’ code and the civil service code.”
As a result of the Observer report, Stephen Twigg has written the following letter to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to investigate the allegations. The letter is reprroduced below:
Stephen Twigg MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Education
House of Commons
Sir Jeremy Heywood
2 February 2013
Dear Sir Jeremy,
I write to ask you to launch an investigation into the conduct of the Special Advisers to the Secretary of State for Education, namely Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete.
As you will be aware, the Code Conduct for Special Advisers specifies that personal attacks are prohibited:
“The highest standards of conduct are expected of special advisers and, specifically, the preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life. Any special adviser ever found to be disseminating inappropriate material will automatically be dismissed by their appointing Minister.”
There are serious allegations that the code may have been breached on several occasions. You will be aware that ministers have responsibility for the actions of their Special Advisers.
Tim Loughton MP, the former Children’s Minister gave evidence at the Education Select Committee where he described the children and families agenda as being a “declining priority” of the Department for Education.
Following this, a senior Department of Education source was quoted on the Spectator website as follows: “Loughton was a lazy incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion.”
In addition, the Twitter feed @toryeducation has made a number of personal attacks on journalists and other public figures.
The feed has attacked The Observer journalist Toby Helm as “an activist, not a professional hack” and a “Labour stooge” and just today accused him of “an emotional meltdown”.
It has retweeted allegations about the personal life of Financial Times journalist Christopher Cook from the Twitter feed @SteveHiltonGuru.
An article in The Observer has alleged that the feed is being run by Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete, who were asked by Henry Macrory, the Conservative head of press to tone down the comments.
I would be grateful if you could investigate the source of the smears on this Twitter feed and the attacks on Tim Loughton.
I would also ask you to investigate if official Departmental resources have been used, such as official computers, blackberries or phones, to conduct a smear campaign against those who question or criticise the Education Secretary.
I look forward to your reply. Yours sincerely,
Stephen Twigg MP
Shadow Education Secretary