Twitter smear accusations around Michael Gove's DfE 'have echoes of Damian McBride'

Accusations that figures within the Department for Education have operated a Twitter smear campaign against critics 'have echoes of Damian McBride', it has been claimed.

Michael Gove: Under fire over Twitter allegations
Michael Gove: Under fire over Twitter allegations

Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has called for an inquiry into claims that Education Secretary Michael Gove’s staff used the anonymous @toryeducation account to attack critics of the department.

Twigg’s request follows on from claims made in The Observer yesterday after its political editor Toby Helm was called a ‘Labour stooge’ by those using the Twitter account.

Sources within the Department for Education have played down the accusations, stating that it was ‘unlikely’ an investigation would be launched and adding the allegations were not being seen as damaging.

The Observer claimed that two special advisers, Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete, were running the Twitter feed. Departmental sources said that both spads were continuing to deal with issues as normal.

Westminster Advisers MD Dominic Church warned that, if found to have substance, the story could gather momentum.

Referring to the Gordon Brown adviser who resigned in 2009 after discussing the idea of launching a website to spread smears about political opponents, he said:

‘This has echoes of what happened with Damian McBride, and the insinuation of darker arts of politics getting played out publicly. The accusations will be damaging to Gove, as people want to see the Government getting on with the business of running the country.’

Twigg has written to Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood requesting an investigation is launched.

Currently, @toryeducation remains up and running, though Ladbrokes reported a rush of money on Gove being the next minister to exit cabinet.

Four Communications public affairs head Jim Dickson said that the story, if proved true, could force resignations.

‘It looks like the kind of over the top attack dog politics that is tempting to engage with but turns the public off,' he said.

‘Twitter’s relative anonymity and spontaneity tempts people to engage in rapid fire rebuttals, and this inevitably makes keeping a centralised message within government harder.’

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘If we were to receive any evidence that anyone connected with the DfE had broken the Special Advisers Code or the Civil Service Code, then we would take appropriate steps. So far no such evidence has been provided.’

In regards to the complaint from Twigg, the spokesman added that the permanent secretary ‘is considering an appropriate response’.

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