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.Reuse content