Another weekend has brought more stories in the press about goings-on at the Department for Education (DfE), and in particular the behavioural issues surrounding Michael “Oiky” Gove’s special advisors (SpAds) Dominic Cummings, Henry de Zoete and James Frayne. Yet still, it seems, they are all in denial, hoping their pals in the right leaning part of the press keep schtum and it all blows over.
That the knowledge of what Gove’s retinue of polecats is up to is spreading was shown as the BBC picked up on the payout of £25,000 to a civil servant to stop her going to an employment tribunal, where those behaving in a less than professional manner would have been publicly identified. Their boss has drawn on his reserves of spin ability from the Murdoch days to bodyswerve the matter – for now.
Then, on Friday, came the Independent’s piece: “‘Dump f***ing everyone’: the inside story of how Michael Gove’s vicious attack dogs are terrorising the DfE”. Some of what has been going on within the DfE was held to be like scenes from The Thick Of It. Civil servants had walked off the job in response to their treatment at the hands of an “us-and-them aggressive, intimidating culture”.
Moreover, “Two separate Fleet Street editors are alleged recently to have told Gove that he should end Cummings' reign as a special adviser for the good of the party”. Given “Oiky’s” contacts among those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet, those editors will most likely be from the papers who are trying to keep a lid on the whole business. But he won’t listen.
Frayne, now departed, is held to have run a communications department with a “macho culture of intimidation, favouritism and 'laddism'”. Cummings was “widely known to use obscene and intimidating language”, but, sad to say, this was not the Daily Mail, and he was not the editor. And, to cap it all, “plans for an anti-bullying week campaign ended up with some staff being turned on”.
To say that this is a less than ideal state of affairs would be an understatement, so it was welcome news when the much abused Toby Helm brought the news that “Michael Gove's officials act to clean up abusive @toryeducation Twitter feed”. The feed in question is still behaving suitably unpleasantly, but we will see. What whoever is behind it is not doing is taking the hint.
That these stories are starting to emerge shows former and current DfE staff are prepared to talk, and that they know where to find someone who will listen, and then act. How many more civil servants will have to be bought off to stop them going to tribunal? How many more editors will have to be squared to keep the stories out of their papers? How long before Cummings and de Zoete get caught?
You’re about to get rumbled, lads. Start behaving yourselves or expect the boot.