More pressure on Michael Gove's advisers over use of Twitter smear tactics against civil servants


Labour is demanding a new investigation into the use of smear tactics involving Education Secretary Michael Gove’s Department for Education on a social networking site.

The latest example emerged at the weekend after allegations that Dominic Cummings, special adviser to Mr Gove, and James Frayne, former director of communications at the DfE, had intimidated a civil servant - who was subsequently given a £25,000 pay-out.

A grievance procedure cleared members of Mr Gove’s team of any wrongdoing but said that the civil servant had been subjected to conduct “perceived as intimidating”.

Following the revelations, a tweet appeared on the @toryeducation Twitter account, claiming the civil servant had brought a “standard shakedown legal case against the DfE”.  The tweet referred to the civil servant as a woman for the first time - “shakedown” is defined in the dictionary as “extortion, as by blackmail or threats of violence”.

Stephen Twigg, Labour’s education spokesman, has now written to Chris Wormauld, Permanent Secretary at the DfE, asking him to investigate who was responsible for updating the @toryeducaton account.

“That (the use of the word ‘shakedown;) is a very serious allegation - of extortion - against someone who I understand is still working at the Department,” he said.

Mr Twigg has also asked Mr Wormauld to confirm who had taken responsibility for the pay-out  and that Mr Gove was not informed of the case.  This follows Mr Gove telling the Commons education select committee he had no knowledge of allegations of special advisers acting “inappropriately” to civil servants.

This is the second time the @toryeducation site has been the centre of controversy.  A week ago there were claims that special advisers had used it to rubbish opponents of Mr Gove and journalists.  In addition, it briefed against former Children’s Minister Tim Loughton as a “lazy incompetent narcissist” after he had claimed an “Upstairs, Downstairs” relationship existed between ministers and civil servants.

The DfE has said that - if any evidence is presented to it of special advisers breaching their code (which forbids the use of smear tactics) - it will take appropriate action.  So far, though, it added, none had been presented.