An anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation is regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department. It is often abreast of imminent Tory policies, suggesting it is coming from close to the centre of government. However, it is also used to rubbish journalists and Labour politicians while promoting Gove’s policies and career. Issuing party political material and indulging in personal attacks are both clear breaches of the special advisers’ code and the civil service code.
In an unfortunate echo of the way the previous Labour government’s spin doctors smeared the weapons scientist David Kelly, the account has likened one respected reporter, the Financial Times’ education correspondent, Chris Cook, to Walter Mitty and suggested he was a “stalker”. It has also retweeted insinuations about his personal life.
The Observer launched an investigation into @toryeducation last week after its political editor became a target. Last weekend the account accused Toby Helm of being “a Labour stooge” while he worked at the Daily Telegraph.
It also suggested Helm was “like [Alastair] Campbell and [Tom] Baldwin – an activist, not a professional hack” – references to the Labour party’s current and former spin doctors.
The Observer, 2nd February 2013
Michael Gove’s Department for Education has taken steps to stop the Twitter feed @toryeducation – to which his own advisers have contributed – from issuing any more abuse against political opponents, critics and journalists.
Senior government sources said the department had acted to ensure those contributing to the feed will now put out information in a neutral way and free of its previously abusive tone. The move amounts to an admission that people within government have been involved in operating a propaganda feed that promotes Gove and Tory policy in clear breach of civil service codes of behaviour.
Last week @toryeducation launched an extraordinary attack on the author and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen, accusing him of being a member of the Socialist Workers Party. “Just another unscientific SWP relic who longs for total state control of schools and = angry cos losin,” it said. A furious Rosen asked @toryeducation to withdraw the “untruth”. Instead, it countered by linking to a Guardian obituary of prominent SWP figure Chris Harman, written by Rosen, and a recording of the writer speaking at a Marxism event last year.
Rosen replied: “I speak at all sorts of meetings. They are accusing someone of something that is not true, and from a position of anonymity. Pure McCarthyism.” He has complained to Twitter about @toryeducation.
The Observer, 16 February 2013
Gove said his programme helped people “who want something better for their children and community”. He ended his hostile concession by saying: “I would defend, to the death, the right of anyone to oppose government policy. I do not believe however that it is right to facilitate the targeted intimidation of brave people acting on noble motives.“
The Guardian, 20 February 2013
Satire’s family has requested that it’s privacy be respected at this very difficult time.