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A Note on Dominic Cummings and a 2011 Troll Account

From an editorial in the Observer in early 2013:

Today, this paper alleges that a Twitter feed emanating in part, or wholly, from within the Department of Education is using its anonymity – when not dispensing perfectly reasonable policy analysis – to defame, disparage and damage political opponents and journalists. Contributions to the Twitter feed included taunting opponents about “mental illness” and retweeting remarks suggesting that a journalist had had a breakdown.

According to the associated report:

…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 understands that two of [Education Secretary Michael] Gove’s special advisers, Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete, were approached in 2011 by Henry Macrory, then Tory party head of press, and were asked to tone down their input into the feed which Macrory thought was inappropriate.

The account was called @toryeducation, and this was several years before Cummings had become a household name. Recently, Cummings has begun using social media to give an account of his time when he was at the heart of the Brexit “Leave” campaign and later of Boris Johnson’s government. However, he hasn’t yet returned to the above incident, despite being asked about it on Twitter.

In addition to the articles in the Observer, his 2013 exchange with the paper’s editor John Mulholland ahead of publication was posted online by Paul Waugh on his blog The Waugh Room, which ran as part of PoliticsHome. The blog has since expired and is now consigned to the Internet Archive, which means it can’t be found by search engines. As such, I here take the liberty of pasting the material below.

The exchange is unedifying, but it provides insight into Cummings’s character. Cummings engages in mockery and evasion, and takes the stance that the matter is beneath his notice while going on at greater length than would be required for a simple denial or admission or proper explanation. He also seizes on Mulholland confusing the name of the account under discussion – @toryeducation went by the name “Tory Education News”, and Mulholland accidentally referred to @educationnews. Cummings affects to take this at face value, even though he knows damn well what Mulholland means.

It may be old news, but government advisors misusing their work time (and our money) to engage in social media trolling and composing deliberately uninformative emails in response to serious press enquiries is unfinished business. How widespread is the practice? And what does it say about Michael Gove, who may yet one day take over from Johnson as Prime Minister? The Observer editorial was headlined “Answers, Mr Gove”; we never actually got any.

From: CUMMINGS, Dominic
Sent: 01 February 2013 14:13
To: ‘Jade Amias’ [PA to John Mulholland]
Cc: PERMANENT, Secretary

Subject: RE: Urgent letter from John Mulholland

Dear Mr Mulholland

I’m not wasting time on the tantrums of Toby Helm and Chris Cook over anonymous Twitter accounts. Am I supposed to take seriously anonymous accusations about anonymous Twitter accounts ridiculing journalists with too much time on their hands?

I suggest that your advice to both of them is: take a Twitter detox because it’s melting your brains, focus on what’s important, stop behaving like 8 year olds, and Mr Helm ought to reflect on the bizarreness of twittering foul-mouthed abuse at people while complaining about being abused on Twitter. What would David Astor make of that?

Please feel free to publish this response in any forum you wish including if you intend to run any ‘story’. I will not waste another minute on such nonsense and neither should you.

Best wishes

Dominic

From: John Mulholland
Sent: 01 February 2013 14:33
To: CUMMINGS, Dominic

Subject:

Dear Dominic,

Many thanks for your speedy response. I note however that you are not denying contributing to @educationews. I would like to give you that opportunity now, again. On one other specific point, can you confirm, or deny, that a senior Conservative Party official – in late summer 2011 – voiced concerns directly to you about the tone of the contributions you were making to @educationews.

Many thanks,

John Mulholland

From: CUMMINGS, Dominic
Sent: 01 February 2013 15:12
To: ‘John Mulholland’

Subject: RE:

Dear Mr Mulholland

Have you lost the plot? Now you’re accusing me of being something called @educationnews. Have you even looked at that twitter account? I did just now for a laugh. It has tweeted twice and has 5 followers. What next? What else are you going to invite me to ‘deny’? Am I secretly doing Rupert Murdoch’s twittering while working for Mossad on the side? I strongly advise you to take the advice I gave before or you will embarrass a famous institution even more. This really is my last word on this puerile rubbish.

D

From: John Mulholland
Sent: 01 February 2013 15:28
To: CUMMINGS, Dominic

Subject: Re:

Dominic,

Many apologies, and thanks again for your reply.

My previous email should have referred to @toryeducation – as it did in my first email. I suspect you know full well the feed we are referring to – it also has the line ‘Tory education news’ as part of its Twitter account. Shall we leave aside your references to Mossad and Rupert Murdoch for now and return to the matter at hand?

I noted how your first email did not deny contributing to @educationews. I would like to give you that opportunity again.

And on the other specific point, can you confirm, or deny, that a senior Conservative Party official – in late summer 2011 – voiced concerns directly to you about the tone of the contributions you were making to @educationews.

They seem to me relatively simple questions to answer. We note that the feed in question – hardly an ‘anonymous’ Twitter feed – is listed as one of just four Twitter members by the Conservative HQ Twitter account.

Many thanks

John Mulholland

From: CUMMINGS, Dominic
Sent: 01 February 2013 16.10
To: ‘John Mulholland’

Dear Mr Mulholland.

You write:

‘Shall we leave aside your references to Mossad and Rupert Murdoch for now and return to the matter at hand? I noted how your first email did not deny contributing to @educationews. I would like to give you that opportunity again.’

You really MUST look at that account, you’ve now repeated your bizarre accusation! Then confiscate Toby’s phone, send Chris Cook a ‘How to boost your self-­esteem’ book, and stop sending such emails.

Best wishes, and over and out

D

Ps. Once you’ve chillaxed, I would be happy to chat some time about education policy.

2 Responses

  1. “Today, this… alleges that a… feed emanating in part, or wholly, from within… is using its… – when not dispensing perfectly reasonable… analysis – to defame, disparage and damage political opponents and journalists.”

  2. “Today, this… alleges that a… feed emanating in part, or wholly, from within… is using its… – when not dispensing perfectly reasonable… analysis – to defame,
    “….included taunting opponents about “mental illness” ……..and as you consider no one here is intelligent but yourself………

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