Labour today said a controversial adviser to Education Secretary Michael Gove should resign if - as appeared to be the case - he was in breach of his profession's Code of Conduct by implying that a journalist required therapy.
Ian Mearns, a member of the Commons education select committee, claimed the adviser, Dominic Cummings, “appears to be in clear breach of the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers” with his comments.
“If that is proven to be the case, the appropriate course of action would be for him to resign,” he added. “The Secretary of State has responsibility for the discipline of his special advisers - he has to act now.”
His comments follow an article in today's Independent revealing that Mr Cummings had implied a journalist needed therapy.
Mr Cummings made the remark in an email protesting about reports describing sometimes heavy-handed methods adopted by special advisers at the Department for Education - one of several in newspapers complaining about the behaviour of special advisers..
“It seems that Dominic Cummings is asking for an invitation from the select committee to come and give evidence himself,” Mr Mearns added.
“I personally think the Select Committee would be extremely interested to hear directly from the horse's mouth how relationships between special advisers and ministers and special advisers and civil servants work within the department.
”I also think the select committee would be really interested to know how the behaviour of individuals within the department relates to the guidance of the Ministerial Code with regards to their special advisers so we can see for ourselves what exactly has taken place.“
Mr Cummings' jibe was aimed at Chris Cook, former education correspondent on the Financial Times, who has been involved in a long wrangle with Mr Gove about ministers' use of private email accounts for government business.
Mr Cummings made the comments in an angry email to The Independent's education editor Richard Garner. He criticised a comment article written by Garner and told him he should ”speak to Chris Cook about a good therapist…..[if] you really think that counts as 'wrath'“.
Members of the Commons select committee are due to meet next Tuesday - when they will consider whether to recall Mr Gove to give evidence to them after claims he had misled MPs by denying he had any knowledge of any use of intimidating tactics by advisers. It subsequently transpired that a civil servant was awarded a £25,000 pay-out after claiming intimidation - although advisers were cleared of any improper conduct.
Last week the select committee, which has five Conservative, five Labour and one Liberal Democrat MPs, decided to write to Mr Gove asking him for a further explanation of his comments. Mr Gove pre-empted the letter by responding immediately her heard of the approach, confirming he had no knowledge of the affair.
Tuesday's meeting will determine the committee's next move against the background of further reports about Mr Cummings' behaviour.
The Code of Conduct for Special Advisers includes an instruction to avoid ”personal attacks“. In response to the email, Mr Cummings said: ”The Independent seems to be on a kamikaze mission to go bust as fast as possible by writing ludicrous and dishonest stories.“