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.
Exactly one year ago yesterday, staff in Conservative HQ used an official Twitter account to mock suggestions that the UK had not turned the corner on unemployment. With new stats showing joblessness at a 17 year high, youth unemployment breaking the million barrier and the dole queue growing by 129,000 in the last quarter, to say this was complacent is something of an understatement.
Back in November 2010, wee Dougie Alexander (then Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) was tasked with downplaying an unexpected fall in unemployment. Conservative press guru Henry Macrory (above) thought it amusing to taunt Alexander’s claims that the UK was not “out of the woods yet” using the @ToryPressHQ account:
To add to the mockery, they even included a screengrab.
We don’t hear anyone laughing now, though.
The Labour Party has inflicted some some pretty impressive wounds on itself over the last three years but it is clear now that these are eclipsed by the Ashcroft saga. If Scrapbook was a Conservative activist he would be spitting feathers and it seems one of their number finally lost patience this week, causing a storm with an email which led Channel 4 News yesterday evening: “Didn’t David Cameron or his colleagues understand that it should have been sorted out years ago rather than in the middle of a general election campaign?”
This was yet another news item they could do without in what has been a nightmare week for the Conservatives. But one struggles to fathom what their (usually sane) head of press, Henry Macrory, was thinking when he flooded his Twitter stream with a torrent of weak personal attacks on the senior Conservative lobbyist responsible for the email:
If senior Conservative staffers think that this is a strategic way to kill a story off then the party might be in more serious trouble than everyone thinks. The episode was spotted quickly by several politicos, including Mark Pack from Lib Dem Voice:
“The first one I saw made me wonder if perhaps a message had been sent by mistake, or an intended private message broadcast to the world in error. But that doesn’t explain eleven tweets, nor does a momentary piece of bad judgement. It’s a pretty unappetising picture of how to handle a negative story: send a long series of personal jibes. Perhaps though it’s good that they were sent via Twitter; that way we can all see how the Conservative Party’s press operation conducts itself” – Mark Pack
What did David Cameron say about “too many twits”?
UPDATE: Oh, dear. This little bit of spin has gone down like a pint of sick with some non-Cameroons.
In an interview on Absolute (formerly Virgin) Radio this morning David Cameron indulged in a bit of bar room vernacular. When asked whether he used Twitter, he responded:
Politicians do have to think about what we say. I think the problem with Twitter, the instantness of it, I think too many twits may make a twat. (3:15 audio below)
This was followed up – less than a minute later – by more swearing:
The public are, I think, are rightly pissed off – I can’t say that in the morning – angry with politicians, cynical about politics. (3:50 audio below)
Hats of to Andy Coulson, Henry Macrory or whoever thought this up. This is an absolutely fantastic silly-season story that will be referenced again and again throughout the summer. This is not Cameron going off the rails but yet more spin designed to make Gordon Brown look staid by comparison.
Predictably, the media are going along with this and are reporting it as a gaffe. Credit to Alex Smith, who immediately spotted this as an attempt to court ‘white van man’ (phone in callers referred to Cameron as “geezer” and “Dave”). Is it any wonder people are “cynical about politics” when politicians resort to such tactics to angle in on a particular demographic?
This is one rung up from William Hague’s “I drunk 14 pints of beer a day”.
UPDATE: As linked at the top, David Hughes at the Torygraph isn’t fooled. “What was he doing? Trying to be laddish, of course. Presumably, Absolute Radio has a young audience“. The radio DJ is praising the twat comment as “fantastic”.