Dominic Cummings: Ghost Protocol

I saw Dominic Cummings at Northern Rocks. He was clearly impassioned, but I remain unconvinced by his solutions even though we recognise many of the same problems. Let’s think about how he got to where he is.

He was a Special Advisor to a range of government ministers, most recently Michael Gove. ‘SpAds’ are expected/allowed to be political but work within the civil service. They must follow a code of conduct and their minister is responsible for their actions:

The responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the Minister who made the appointment

(from 2010 code linked above)

During his time at the DfE, there were many controversies about attacks on those within education who disagreed with the official line. I’m sure he was not responsible for all of them; equally, I’m sure he was instrumental in at least some. Gove himself has not been above personal attacks. The use of the @toryeducation twitter account is, officially at least, still a mystery – although many feel Cummings and a fellow SpAd, De Zoete were contributors. There were, I’m sure, many reasons he chose to resign last year. Since then he’s been fairly busy, and softly spoken as ever.

Special advisers must not take public part in political controversy whether in speeches or letters to the Press, or in books, articles or leaflets; must observe discretion and express comment with moderation, avoiding personal attacks; and would not normally speak in public for their Minister or the Department.

paragraph 12 from the Code of Conduct


Now, we have Netflix at home. (Last night I watched Tron: Legacy. Don’t judge me.) But more relevantly, a while back I watched Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. (What’s with all the colons?) In this, the Impossible Mission Force are ‘disavowed’ which means they’re officially not supported by the government, so can hopefully get away with stuff but avoid political repercussions.

Which made me think.

I offer the following satire for your amusement.

In a shadowy office at the DfE, late 2013.

MG: Dom, you know I agree with what you’re saying but you’re really not supposed to say all this stuff.

DC: &%$@{ing @$£ *&^@X& and their code of conduct.

MG: Yes, but I’m responsible for what you say and that means more hassle than it’s worth.

DC: Why does it have to be about blame?

MG: They keep banging on about accountability when everyone knows that public servants like teachers are accountable to us, not the other way around.

DC: But I’ve got all these really important ideas and loads of people disagree and they keep using facts to contradict me and then I get all mad and slag them off.

MG: Funnily enough I’d noticed that, but because you’re not an ex-journalist with the Times the papers aren’t as nice to you, so I get the flak.

DC: So the problem is that you’re accountable because I’m a SpAd?

MG: Exactly.

DC: But if I wasn’t a SpAd, then we wouldn’t be able to swap ideas over email. I couldn’t meet with you at the Department.

MG: Well, we wouldn’t be able to use the official email accounts, because they can be requested as freedom of information. But there are ways around that. And as for meetings, that would only be a problem if we actually kept records of who visited.

DC: So I could make all the claims I wanted, say whatever I liked (or you suggested), talk you up and slag everyone else off… but because I wasn’t a SpAd, there would be nothing Cameron or anyone else could do about it?

MG: Hmm.




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