Tag Archives: dominic cummings

The worst of Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings: Mekon

Michael Gove’s consigliere Dominic Cummings — dubbed ‘The Mekon’ by DfE staff owing to his apparent resemblance to the arch enemy of comic book hero Dan Dare — is back on quotable form with an assault on Number 10 splashing The Times (£).

On David Cameron:

“As Bismarck said about Napoleon III, Cameron is a sphinx without a riddle … Everyone is trying to find the secret of David Cameron but he is exactly what he appears to be. There’s no mystery to him. He had a picture of Macmillan on his wall — that’s all you need to know.”

While chief of staff Ed Llewellyn is dubbed:

“a classic third-rate suck-up-kick-down sycophant presiding over a shambolic court”

Perhaps it’s worth reprising some of his other, errr, finest moments.

Like the time he was hand picked by Iain Duncan Smith to be his director of strategy in 2002, quit the role just weeks before Conservative Party conference and then stabbed him in the back in the Telegraph:

“Mr Duncan Smith is incompetent, would be a worse prime minister than Tony Blair, and must be replaced.”

Or his email to the Independent’s education editor, featuring a vile mental health smear on the FT’s then education correspondent — now Newsnight policy editor — Chris Cook:

“Either a) you really think that counts as ‘wrath’, in which case you shd [sic] speak to Chris Cook about a good therapist, or b) you know it’s absurd but were ordered to write something about spads and that’s the best you could do because you know I never call and shout at you.”

Or the time he called Nick Clegg is a ‘self-obsessed, revolting character’:

“He is self-obsessed, sanctimonious and so dishonest he finds the words truth and lies have ceased to have any objective meaning, and he treats taxpayers money with contempt.

“He won’t do the hard work to get policy right – all he cares about is his image. He is a revolting character. And I say that after spending 15 years in Westminster.

“Whenever Clegg gave a speech, he’d demand we spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money for his latest absurd gimmick. We thwarted Clegg as much as we could.”

Cummings’ approach to dealing with his opponents is one which has infected the Tory education brief as a whole. Here’s the @ToryEducation Twitter account, long thought to have been operated by Gove and allies using a journalist’s children in a botched attempt to smear them:

@toryeducation on Toby Helm's children

Prone to “volcanic outbursts”, Scrapbook hears that the former SpAd would occupy the barely used office of then education minister John Hayes making noises which led some officials to “suspect that animals were trapped inside the building”.

Michael Gove adviser admits sending ‘mental health smear’ email

Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings

Michael Gove’s controversial adviser Dominic Cummings has admitted sending an email in which he appears to smear a journalist as suffering from mental health problems.

In an email to Ian Mearns, a Labour member of the select committee which quizzed Gove on the behaviour of his SpAds yesterday, Cummings says he did not “circulate” the email to a number of journalists — but does admit an off-the-record negative briefing to Indy hack Richard Garner:

“you shd speak to [FT journalist] Chris Cook about a good therapist”

Cummings writes:

Cummings Mearns email

With a Twitter account linked to Cummings describing Chris Cook as a “Walter Mitty” character and “stalker”Scrapbook is puzzled as to what alternative meaning of “therapist” one should infer.

It appears he thinks that it’s okay to smear people — provided it’s off the record. But the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers could not be clearer:

“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”

Cummings is running out of friends in Whitehall. As Scrapbook exclusively revealed last month, Cameron advisers told senior political journalists that they would suffer no blowback from Number 10 if they scalped the Gove aide.

The education secretary refused to discuss the issue yesterday after one of Mearns’ Labour colleagues fluffed his question, referring to the email as “private”.

If you followed the Gove/Cummings “private email” logic then Damian McBride might still work in politics.

Gove to be grilled on allegations he misled Parliament over ‘bullying’

Michael Gove Education Committee

Michael Gove is to be grilled by MPs this morning over claims he misled parliament in relation to allegations of bullying by his staff. The education secretary will face the Education Committee at 9:30am in Portcullis House.

In an outbreak of SpAd line management redolent of Jeremy Hunt’s defence to the Leveson Inquiry, Gove had previously claimed that he had no clue about “allegations about [his advisers] acting inappropriately” — despite a £25,000 payout to a staff member who claimed she was bullied. He told MPs:

“I am not omniscient, but I have seen no evidence of that.”

Gove’s attempt to pre-empt further digging by the only served to “piss off” committee members. He wrote to them following his last appearance:

“While I cannot comment on individual employment matters, I can confirm that I have never been made aware of allegations by civil servants of inappropriate actions by special advisers.”

As Scrapbook reported last month, one of Gove’s former ministers has turned on him after being sacked from the education brief. Tim Loughton has asked a string of forensic parliamentary questions after a departmental source briefed The Spectator that he was a “lazy incompetent narcissist”.

Loughton has continued to stalk his former boss, tabling a number of further questions, such as:

“what specific instructions and guidance he has issued on guarding against breaches of the Civil Service code regarding personal comments and briefings against individuals; if he will publish any such instructions and guidance; and if he will make a statement.”

None of these have been answered, however.

MPs can be restrained in their questioning by what they “officially know”. In a breathtakingly arrogant response to the committee calling him to give further evidence, Gove facetiously told them he was “available tomorrow”. It looks as though the education secretary is desperate appear MPs before they got their hands on more answers to Loughton’s questions.

And the figure that signs off on answers to those Parliamentary questions? Dominic Cummings — one of Gove’s advisers accused of bullying in the payout case.

Blue on blue: former education minister turns on Michael Gove

Tim Loughton

Former education minister Tim Loughton has turned on his former boss Michael Gove, tabling written parliamentary questions designed to unseat his special adviser Dominic Cummings.

Controversial aide Cummings, who Scrapbook revealed on Friday was being hung out to dry by an exasperated 10 Downing Street, is a leading suspect for the “senior Department for Education source” who briefed the Spectator that Loughton was a “lazy incompetent narcissist”.

But with a former member of DfE staff receiving a £25,000 payout in the wake of a grievance procedure involving Cummings it looks like Loughton is going on the offensive, using parliamentary machinery to quiz the department:

(1) how many formal complaints his Department has received about the conduct of special advisers in his Department since May 2010 from (a) other members of staff, (b) officials from other departments and (c) members of the public;

(2) how many formal grievance procedures by staff have taken place in his Department in each of the last five years;

(3) how many grievance procedures by staff in his Department have resulted in payments to those staff in each of the last five years; and what the size of each such payment was.

Despite the sizeable payout, the media have been briefed that an internal investigation in the department “cleared” Cummings of wrongdoing. Loughton also tabled a second question probing the reporting procedures:

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what the procedure is for reporting (a) grievance procedures and (b) payoffs resulting from grievance procedures to his Department’s Education Board; and on which dates these matters were referred to in papers circulated to the Board or discussed at the Board.

This could get very messy indeed. The last thing any secretary of state wants on the backbenches is a former minister with an axe to grind.

Ironically, one of Loughton’s final duties as a minister was to fend off a forensic written question from Tom Watson on the topic of Michael Gove’s departmental mobile phone.

The gamekeeper has turned poacher.

10 Downing Street moves against Michael Gove team

Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings

Senior political journalists have been told that 10 Downing Street will not stand in the way should they look to unseat one of Michael Gove’s top team. Special adviser Dominic Cummings has become a lightning rod for controversy — his latest dalliance with negative headlines came this week after emails emerged in which he suggested a journalist needed therapy.

The charge sheet against Gove’s team as a whole would be more than enough to scalp a special adviser if aspects can be linked to a particular individual:

  • A vicious negative briefing against a former Tory education minister, who was described to The Spectator as “lazy incompetent narcissist obsessed only with self-promotion.”
  • Ownership of the @ToryEducation Twitter account, used to bombard journalists and others with abuse
  • A £25,000 payout to a civil servant in the wake of bullying claims
  • Gove’s team have also been linked to the @SteveHiltonGuru Twitter account — which has abeen used to attack a string of figures across Westminster including David Cameron’s chief of staff Ed Llewellyn.

Scrapbook understands hacks were briefed after finally exhausting the patience of a group of senior Cameron aides, who are of the settled view that Cummings is a “complete liability”. The group, which is thought to include director of communications Craig Oliver and former head of press Henry McCrory, who still works for the Tories on an informal basis, are apparently “making enquiries within government about Cummings’ conduct with a view to having him fired”.

After manifold breaches of the special advisers code across government, it looks as though some blood may finally be spilt.

Arrogant email from Michael Gove adviser confirms culture of secrecy

The Guardian today published a leaked email in which a close aide to Michael Gove fiercely rebukes attempts by a civil servant to obtain transparency from a charity paid £1,000,000 of taxpayers’ money to administrate Gove’s “new schools” programme.

News of smoke and mirrors at the Department for Education will come as no shock to loyal Scrapbook readers, however, who read the story of secrecy around the New Schools Network (NSN), run by yet another Gove adviser, last October.

  • The government refused to disclose full details of the business case submitted by NSN. Stonewalling by DfE led to an intervention by the Information Commissioner, who ordered them to reply. A heavily redacted FOI response was finally received after a 70-day delay.
  • The DfE have no idea who NSN’s other donors are – and crucially – whether those donors would stand to benefit financially from the introduction of free schools.
  • Education ministers have dodged further questions around procurement, with the department claiming “no other tenders were sought from other organisations [because] NSN has been active in this area for some time”. In this case “some time” means “since the charity was started less than a year ago”.

The arrogance with which Dominic Cummings responds to entreaties from within the department is nevertheless breathtaking:

“NSN is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figure on ‘expressions of interest’ for PQs, FOIs or anything else. Further, NSN has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all.”

Contrast this with the spin from Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude on “the degree of honesty we have with the public”:

“The most startling difference between this administration and the last is the degree of honesty we have with the public … We have put government transparency at the heart of our approach … When it comes to transparency and openness, we want nothing less than radical culture change for the public sector.”

On transparency, the gulf between rhetoric and reality has become an embarrassment.

  • Follow us on Twitter