An investigation has been launched into whether a Labour sympathiser within the Department for Education leaked emails from Michael Gove's senior advisers to the media.
The Education Secretary's advisers became so worried about the leaks that they stopped using official Government email for correspondence – using their own private addresses instead. Yesterday, though, that decision prompted calls for a separate inquiry as an email from one adviser – Dominic Cummings, Mr Gove's chief political aide – warning his fellow advisers not to use official government emails to contact him, itself found its way into the media.
In it, Mr Cummings said: "I will not answer any further emails to my official DfE account or from conservatives.com – I will only answer things that come from my gmail accounts from people who i know who they are. I suggest that you do the same – I can explain in person the reason for doing this." It was sent to five other advisers. It was suggested that Mr Gove's aides were trying to conceal sensitive information from civil servants and restrict the public's right to get hold of the information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Mr Cummings believed that his and other special advisers' correspondence could be monitored by officials in the Department and was possibly being leaked to the press.
It was part of wider concerns across Government that confidential information was finding its way into the press. Conservative aides have blamed civil servants loyal to the previous Labour government for some of the leaks and many have resorted to using private email accounts for party political discussions.
In a further development yesterday, it was revealed Mr Gove himself used an undisclosed private email account registered under the name of his wife, Sarah Vine, a journalist at The Times, to discuss Government business. The email, seen by the Financial Times, was sent to five advisers and includes discussion about a schools literacy programme and progress on reducing bureaucracy in the department.
"The level of leaks coming out is quite concerning," said one source. "You would normally expect those kind of things after a party has been in government for a long time – not so soon. It may be partly because we're in coalition but there is a suspicion about left-wing officials as well."
Sources at the Department of Education denied the leaked paragraph referred to suspicions over civil servants and said it was sent to comply with a code of conduct, which says: "Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity."
"Dominic was getting emails through his departmental email from Conservatives and he thought: 'no, you shouldn't be doing this'," said a source.
However, it was not the first email from Mr Cummings to find its way into the public domain. Another about the award of a £500,000 grant to the New Schools Network – where he worked – was also the centre of controversy. In it, he said: "MG Telling the civil servants to find a way to give NSN cash without delay."
Andy Burnham, Labour's Education spokesman, immediately demanded a Cabinet Office inquiry into whether proper procedures had been followed before awarding the grant.
He wrote another letter to the Cabinet Office, urging that the scope of the inquiry be extended to cover the second email.
Last night a Department for Education spokesman said: "The DfE is conducting an investigation into whether emails were taken from the Department without authorisation and leaked to the press."
Dominic Cummings: Ambitious adviser likes the limelight
Michael Gove's chief political aide, is no stranger to the limelight.
He has the unique distinction of being barred from taking up a post as Mr Gove's chief special adviser by Andy Coulson. When the phone-hacking scandal forced the former News of the World editor's resignation, it didn't take Cummings long to enter the Education Secretary's office.
Yesterday's leak was the second time one of his emails – intended for a more private audience – has found its way into the public domain. In a previous leak he was caught urging that a £500,000 grant to the New Schools Network, which advises groups on opening free schools, be pushed through as speedily as possible. Mr Cummings had previously worked for the network.
Labour's education spokesman Andy Burnham immediately demanded a Cabinet Office inquiry to determine whether the proper channels had been followed. Conservative supporters pointed out that it would be astonishing if the NSN had not been given a grant, since the free school policy had formed a central part of theparty's education election manifesto.
Recently, though, Mr Cummings' personal life has also received attention. He is engaged to the deputy editor of The Spectator, Mary Wakefield, who has been described as "the motorcycling-riding daughter of a castle-owning baronet". Her father is Sir Humphry Wakefield, who lives at Chillingham Castle in County Durham.
The two met after he was employed to "kick start" their new website, which he controversially did by publishing notorious cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.
"We, who did have to work at The Spectator office, were all furious, thinking this lunatic was trying to get us blown up by Islamists," she recalls.
"So I've ended up about to get married to a man who I once thought was trying to get me killed. Very strange."
Her father, though, is said to be "thrilled" by her engagement.
The rules on personal email use
The special advisers code says: "Special advisers should not use official resources for party political activity. They are employed to serve the objectives of the Government and the Department in which they work."
However elsewhere in the code it states that among the jobs a special adviser is expected to do is: "Liaising with the Party" and "maintaining contact with Party members".
The Department's position that they were using gmail to avoid using official resources does not hold water, as they were still using Government computers to send the emails and Government accounts themselves do not have cost implications.
What Gove adviser wrote to colleagues
'[I] will not answer further emails to my official DfE account or from conservatives.com – i will only answer things that come from gmail account from people who i know who they are.
'i suggest that you do the same in general but thats obv up to you guys – i can explain in person the reason for this.'Reuse content