On the scent of a Tory polecat, Osborne's coyness and what the Lib Dems stand for

If Dominic Cummings is behind the unpleasant personal abuse on this Twitter account, then parents have a right to know


The Labour MP Kevin Brennan asked for a debate on government special advisers last week. While the Labour government's record on special advisers was not exactly blemish-free – Damian McBride and Jo Moore spring to mind, to name just two – the Coalition Agreement pledged to cut the number of "spads", as they're called, yet the latest list shows the number has leapt from 85 to 98.

Brennan, the Shadow Education Minister, used parliamentary privilege to question the behaviour of one of Michael Gove's special advisers. "For the last couple of years, the Education Secretary has maintained as his special adviser a semi-house-trained polecat who runs secret, private email accounts to conduct government business, and runs an anonymous Twitter account on which he abuses even members of his own party." Brennan was talking about Gove's special adviser Dominic Cummings and the account @toryeducation.

This account has, for at least two years, used its anonymous status to tweet personal and in some cases defamatory abuse at journalists and MPs – including, on 16 September, calling the former education minister Tim Loughton a "babbling muppet" who "never had judgement worth a damn". Who is behind this account matters because, as clause six of the special advisers' code of conduct says: "The highest standards of conduct are expected of special advisers and, specifically, the preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser, as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life."

Cummings himself has never denied contributing to the account; he has only said: "I'm not @toryeducation." But that's like me saying "I'm not The Independent on Sunday" – indeed I am not, but I still contribute to this newspaper. The only difference is that my name is attached to everything I write. I do not hide behind anonymity like a coward. If someone takes issue with one of my stories, they can hold me to account.

Downing Street has long had concerns about Cummings' behaviour, not just on Twitter but in his dealings with civil servants. But the Department for Education, and its permanent secretary, Chris Wormald, refused to investigate whether Cummings was behind the account, claiming there was "no evidence" to even make it worth looking into.

But wait a minute. In an epic 250-page essay written by Cummings and released last month, entitled "Some Thoughts", there are some interesting similarities with @toryeducation tweets. For example, on page 53 of "Some Thoughts", Cummings quotes the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu: "To win without fighting is the highest form of war." This same quote was tweeted by @toryeducation on 8 February this year. And on page 102 of his essay, Cummings quotes Mao's statement that "a revolution is not a dinner party" – which @toryeducation tweeted on 7 February.

It is not just colourful philosophy from Mao and Sun Tzu that links Cummings to @toryeducation. Cummings' essay quotes at length the work of Professor Robert Plomin, the geneticist who says intelligence is heritable. On 12 February, @toryeducation tweets a link to a scientific paper by, among others, Plomin, looking for "childhood IQ genes" as the anonymous tweeter puts it. This same paper is cited by Cummings in his essay. In October, @toryeducation tweeted about Plomin as well as IQ and genes more generally. Cummings' essay also refers to talks by the physicist Steve Hsu about research into intelligence and genes. On page 50 of "Some Thoughts", Cummings writes: "Even more radically, Hsu thinks that once the genes are identified, then engineering higher intelligence might become feasible." In tweets on 1 October this year, @toryeducation points others on Twitter to the same talks by Hsu on intelligence and genes.

It is barely believable that there is another person using the @toryeducation account to cite obscure academic research on education, intelligence and genes, as well as using favourite quotes from Mao and Sun Tzu. Even if the nasty attacks are from someone else, there is now, surely, enough evidence for the DfE to investigate what is, in effect, state-sponsored trolling. Cummings is leaving the DfE as special adviser at the end of this year, so some will say it no longer matters. But it is a question of judgement for Gove, who some MPs want to be Tory leader one day. It also matters because Cummings' next project is to set up free schools. If, as it appears, Cummings is behind the unpleasant personal abuse from @toryeducation, then parents have a right to know.

Osborne's missing mentor

George Osborne has previously paid tribute to his father-in-law, David Howell, Margaret Thatcher's first energy secretary, as a major inspiration in his political career. Strange, then, that he seems to have forgotten to list Lord Howell under the category "relevant interests of spouse, partner or close family member" in the latest register of ministers' interests. Lord Howell is a keen proponent of fracking, president of the British Institute of Energy Economics, a consultant to Mitsubishi Electric Europe and an adviser to Japan Central Railways, a high-speed rail firm. David Cameron has listed Sir Reginald Sheffield – who is not as politically active as Howell – as his father-in-law, so why is the Chancellor being so coy?

Liberal to the core

Last Sunday I wrote: "It is fair to ask at this juncture: what do the Lib Dems stand for?" Michael Meadowcroft, the former Liberal MP, has responded by telling me this is an easy question to answer, and has kindly sent me a book, entitled Freedom, Liberty and Fairness – Liberal Democrat Values for the 21st Century. In a list of "core values", the book states: "Our first political duty – particularly if we are ourselves in power – is to ensure that mechanisms to protect freedom are in good order, and power is as widely shared as possible. It is even more important to be sure of these things than it is to be impressed by some aspect of current party policy, however valuable it may be." A handy guide for Nick Clegg to take into coalition negotiations, if they happen, in 2015.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little