Chalk Talk: Last week I hadn't felt the wrath of a special adviser – I have now

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For every action, there is an alternative reaction – which you just cannot predict.

I wrote a comment piece last Saturday – linked to a piece by a colleague accusing Michael Gove's advisers of using bullying tactics against civil servants – saying that I had always found the Education Secretary "courteous and charming in his dealings with almost everyone" and adding: "I also have not felt the wrath of a special adviser come down on me."

I then added the words "until this week". I deliberated about this for a while but then thought I ought to if I was being honest because I knew a piece I had co-authored alleging ministers were offering inducements – or "bribes" – to schools to become academies had provoked a degree of anger. Dominic Cummings, Gove's chief special adviser, had said in a postscript of an email sent to a colleague: "PS: Richard [Garner], in five years I've complained about ONE of your stories, but I've gotta say, I'm amazed you let your name go on this one." Another email, from elsewhere in the department, had described the story as "dire".

Back came a missive from Mr Cummings timed at 1.54am on Saturday: "Just seen your piece. My PS email = 'Wrath!'!? Wow. If there's any followup I'm sure you'll understand if I send my email to your colleagues so they can see for themselves how bullying/tyrannical/wrathful etc I've been with you."

In a follow-up email after I had queried his meaning, he suggested that either I should consult a therapist if I believed what I had written, or actually believed it was "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".

Neither is true but – if my life depended on one of them being so – it would be the former. Hopefully, I'd get a clean bill of health.

True to his promise, that afternoon he circulated newspaper editors, political journalists and education correspondents with details of the saga.

Interestingly, he finished off one of his emails with: "What a pathetic waste of everybody's time." I agree.

On reflection, it seems that even if he is right about me not incurring his wrath previously, I must have now.