Coffee House

Gove vs Labour on Cummings, round 56

24 June 2014

Michael Gove has this afternoon replied to Labour’s questions about Dominic Cumming’s access to the Education department since finishing as a special adviser. Coffee House has got hold of the letter first.

Labour became oddly fixated on whether or not Cummings was still visiting the department, rather than on his stinging criticisms of David Cameron and the Number 10 operation as ‘bumbling’ and a stumbling block for reform. So Gove’s reply to Kevin Brennan’s letter demanding more details is quite easy. He says he doesn’t know how often Cummings has visited the department. And that’s that, save for a gratuitous and teasing reference to the long-term economic plan…

Here’s the letter in full:

Thank you for your letter of 17 June about my former special adviser, Dominic Cummings. I am very sorry if my answers in the House were not clear enough.

As I acknowledged in the House, old friends and colleagues do drop into the Department from time to time. I am sure you would recognise that, in the context of a team which has worked together over a number of years in Opposition as well as Government, it would be highly unusual for all contact to cease immediately and utterly simply because an individual leaves their post.

However, I am afraid I simply do not know on how many occasions Dominic has visited the Department for Education since he left his post. No list of such meetings exists and I believe there are better uses of taxpayers’ money than to task a civil servant employed by the Crown to go through well over one hundred days’ worth of numerous individuals’ diaries in order to establish such a list. I am sure that on reflection you will agree such an expense would be hard to justify to hard-pressed taxpayers who, thanks to this Government’s long-term economic plan, are only now recovering from the effects of the Great Recession.

Arrangements for record-keeping and the security of the building are a matter for the Permanent Secretary. The Department does not normally comment on security issues. However, you will be reassured to learn that, as an ex-employee, Dominic’s pass has been deactivated. Given that no list of meetings exists, again I do not know how many times Dominic has visited the Department since his pass was deactivated.

I hope this is helpful and I look forward to returning to discussing our parties’ respective education policies, or lack thereof, at the earliest possible opportunity.

Yours ever,


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  • CharlietheChump

    Slap slap. Again.

  • Grumpy

    Let’s face it, Mr Gove really knows how to say “Eff Off, you W**nker” in the politest way.

  • itdoesntaddup

    I’ve been trying to work out why the Labour party think that questions about ex employees are more important than questions about policies. The conclusion is they have no policies of their own worthy of discussion.

  • gelert

    How often did Wendi Deng visit #10 when Blair was PM; with or without Lupert ?

  • Laura McInerney

    I’m not saying that taxpayer’s money *should* be spent on this, but looking over 3 months of diaries on outlook, or – gasp! – doing a search, really would only take a few minutes.

    • Greenslime

      Your position is oxymoronic.

  • telemachus

    Gove truly is an arrogant man
    That reply tells us he feels he is above accountability
    Meanwhile he continues to wreck our schools

    • balance_and_reason

      That job was done by Labour decades ago….Blair applied the coup de grace

  • Holly

    I love this guy.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Ah the charismatic Gove who almost single-handedly puts the conservative into the Conservative party. More power to his elbow.

      And the fact that he annoys the Borg and the Blob so much is a bonus. It’s hilarious seeing their summoned zombies stumble in and grope for pejoratives, spewing bile whenever he is centre stage in a thread.

    • Thomtids

      Contrary to your observation about my comment about Mr Cummings, I think Gove has to be given full credit for doing a good job against the entrenched self-interest of the Education Establishment.
      Cummings does throw the ludicrous situation at the heart of Government into an otherwise incredible lash-up.
      Indeed, a more potent reason to resist any move towards enabling coalition Government (oxymoron?) is nearly impossible to find, unless you look at Israel which confirms the inadvisability of it.

  • Thomtids

    For an assassin, Mr Cummings is to be recognised for his efficiency. I look forward to the ongoing drip of poison leaking into Cameron’s repulsive regime. And now Coulson. Oh, manna. Chilcott….and how long is Clegg going to keep taking the happy tablets?
    In fact, what is it men with a surname starting with “C”?

    • Holly


      • Thomtids

        You mean C***?

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    Mr Gove’s department has one of the worst reputations for responding to requests for information. Now we know why ….. he’s saving the tax payers money!
    Do we need to “go through numerous diaries”?
    Presumably there is some security at the DfE and people with passes have to show them and those without have to sign in? Looking at the signing in book would be relatively cheap?
    Mrs Blurt generating smoke cover again?

    • HookesLaw

      But why? For what point? Why should money any money be wasted on spurious rubbish like this?

      I find Mr Gove’s reply admirable. If he is looking for an intern to help him frame such replies in future I would be delighted to offer my services. I think I’m up to the job.

      • southerner

        Well you are a socialist Camerloon lickspittle so, yes, you are ideally suited.

        • Count Dooku

          Has the viceroy’s gin forgotten to sign in with his regular monicker?

      • Mr Arthur Cook

        I am, to a degree, grateful that Mr Gove is so careful with public money.
        It was not always so:
        “Michael Gove, a Tory rising star and a front-bench ally of David Cameron, agreed to repay more than £7,000 he spent on furnishing his second home in London three years ago.” – Perhaps less “admirable”?

    • GnosticBrian

      Mr Arthur Cook

      The pass would be deactivated on his leaving the Department. To gain entry thereafter he would need to be accompanied by a pass holding member of staff. It would be time consuming to go through ever individual pass holder’s diary to discover when and if they met Cummings within the Department. And if we knew of any such visits how would that advance the education debate?

      • Mr Arthur Cook

        It would show that Gove takes his responsibilities and duty to Parliament (Rather than his duty to Murdoch) seriously.
        So we are clear then. There is NO accessible record of who has visited the DfE? If something had been stolen and the police wanted to know who had been in the building they would be told “Oh it’s too difficult”?

        • GnosticBrian

          Are you familiar with the concept of “cost to benefit”? In my early experience the Civil Service were avid record keepers. Lists of this and that were assiduously compiled and filed away in an orderly manner. When asked why the list was compiled the answer was invariably “because we have always done this”; when asked “who uses these lists and for what?” a blank look of incomprehension followed, “use the list?” what a novel suggestion. Wherever I could, I stopped the compiling of useless lists.

          As to what to do in the event of a theft, that would depend on the importance / sensitivity of the item stolen. I suspect that you would have a list of all the Department’s paper clips and each would be individually asset tagged. Each to their own.

          • Mr Arthur Cook

            I didn’t realize we were asking for lists of paperclips.
            I thought we were querying the apparent “fact” or fiction that a major government office has no readily and quickly accessible method of finding out when a particular named person entered this major government office.
            MI5 currently states that the security status in the UK is “substantial”.
            When one visits a school it is necessary to provide Name, company, purpose of visit, host, time in, time out, Registration number, purpose of visit and frequently a photograph is taken.
            So – two possibilities:
            1. The DfE is run in such a way that there is no effective security or capacity to investigate who has been in the building when. This is incompetence.
            2. This data is available and Mr Gove is throwing up his usual smoke screen.
            Re. “paperclips”? I’m not quite sure what you’re talking about paper clips. We were discussing security in a major government department and the potential act of seeking to deny access to information as required to a member of parliament made in a formal request.
            I think we all know where Mrs Blurt is coming from.

            • GnosticBrian

              If you think that keeping interminable lists results in greater security I can only hope that you do not have responsibility for anything important.

              Where required, there are sophisticated security measures in place in Government buildings. It would be foolish to place all details in the public domain.

              Did you read my original post? At the most basic, to gain access to Whitehall buildings requires the appropriate pass. Non-passholders have to be accompanied by a passholder (and this is AT ALL TIMES). Anyone found without a pass is challenged.

              • Mr Arthur Cook

                I don’t think organisations keep “interminable lists”. I think they they use a database now days. Given that they want to store and keep all of our emails, web activity and phone calls I would have thought a simple database of visitors would have been quite simple and cheap?

                • GnosticBrian

                  I’m just guessing, but I suspect that you have NO actual experience of working at a senior level in Whitehall.

                  What you might think is simple and cheap will turn out to be very different when you look to what you can actually do and how much it will cost under one of Gordon Brown’s PFI contracts. £600 to change a light bulb sound familiar?

    • GnosticBrian

      Mr Arthur Cook

      The pass would be deactivated on his leaving the Department. To gain entry thereafter he would need to be accompanied by a pass holding member of staff. It would be time consuming to go through ever individual pass holder’s diary to discover when and if they met Cummings within the Department. And if we knew of any such visits how would that advance the education debate?

    • P_S_W

      There isn’t a signing in book at Government depts, unless it’s different in London – although I can’t imagine it is.

      Instead there are signing in sheets with a detachable visitors pass to be worn on display to identify visitors to the building.

      How these sheets are stored and archived I do not know as they are the responsibility of G4S as far as I know.

      • Mynydd

        Yet again it is someone else fault.

        • P_S_W

          Who’s assigning blame other than yourself?

          I’m simply explaining the process. I’m sure someone can be paid to search through potentially thousands of sheets of paper for the information you need, although that will only give you the number of times he visited, not the context.

          • Sqeeky

            So they wouldn’t have it on an electronic system, taking roughly 90 seconds, including putting the kettle on, to pull up a printout of the number of times his name is entered? That’s what they’ve had in the Government buildings I’ve worked/visited in London, anyway.

            • P_S_W

              As I said above, London may well be different to all other Government buildings across the country.

    • George Scoresby


  • JP Janson De Couet

    “Coffee House has got hold of the letter first.”
    Translation – Lady Haw-Haw got an email with what to spin and went to work. As usual.

    • obbo12

      Translation someone said something that didn’t contain labour hq’s line therefore it must be a lie.

      • Holly

        Do Labour HQ have a line anymore?
        They are more interested in nit picking over ‘procedural’ rubbish than daring to put into English THEIR own failings….I mean policies/vision of Britain.

        • Greenslime

          What policies? What vision?

          Labour’s only approach these days is to diss the government and hope that no-one notices that they haven’t got a clue what they are offering at the moment,

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh more gobbledygook from Labours little pavlov dogs
      quintessentially trying to do its masters bidding. Yet
      alas and alark it will all end in failure. Poor Tristram,
      as beautiful as the statue of Neptune in Florence, but
      unfortunately his orb is also vacant of any living matter.

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