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Monday 4 February 2013

Gove And His Advisors

As the spotlight is shone on the potential use of the @toryeducation Twitter account by special advisors (SpAds) at the Department for Education (DfE), it seems only fair that the whole can of advisory worms under the control of Michael “Oiky” Gove is opened up and given a good prodding. And there are some most interesting worms slithering around in there.

Dominic Cummings, one of the two SpAds identified in the Twitter row, did not at first get into the DfE because his appointment was vetoed by none other than Andy Coulson. Have a think about that. Cummings was then caught urging his colleagues to use personal email accounts rather than DfE ones, the suspicion being that this was to avoid Freedom Of Information (FoI) investigations.

That suspicion was only reinforced when he told a civil servant “NSN [New Schools Network] is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figure on ‘expressions of interest’ [from people wishing to set up free schools] for PQs [parliamentary questions], FOIs [Freedom of Information requests] or anything else. Further, NSN has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all”. NSN, a charity supporting groups setting up Free Schools, was set up by Rachel Wolf, a former advisor to Gove and Boris Johnson.

So a charity being given significant amounts of public money is not going to be telling the public about what it’s doing with it. While you’re digesting that one, let’s move on to the other Gove SpAd in the spotlight, Henry de Zoete, ex-Eton and formerly of right-leaning “think tank” Reform. Henry is trousering a mere £55,000 a year.

But a yet more interesting connection comes with Gabriel Milland, the Department’s head of news. Milland is one of the founders of Policy Exchange, formerly Young Dave’s favourite think tank before it issued a report telling that regeneration of cities like Liverpool had failed and their inhabitants ought to move to the south east.

The author of that magnificently hare-brained tome, Tim Leunig, has just been appointed a policy advisor at ... the Department for Education! Leunig is described as being on secondment from the LSE, but this should trouble no-one. He’s been brought in to do what is described variously as blue sky thinking, or thinking the unthinkable – otherwise known as pushing daft ideas.

On top of all that is the appointment as speechwriter of one Elena Narozanski, who had apparently been lined up for a job which should have been subject to civil service recruitment procedures. Ms Narozanski was asserted to have been the strongest candidate, so that she was the personal choice of “Oiky” Gove is sheer coincidence. Or so we are expected to believe.

The Twitter row may turn out to be just the tip of a very large iceberg.

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