Analysis: The Cummings and goings of Michael Gove’s special advisers

Michael Gove surrounds himself with a close-knit group of special advisers

Last week Bureau revelations that Education Secretary Michael Gove received more donations to his private office than any other cabinet minister prompted speculation that funds were being used to pay for a private adviser, a claim Gove refused to comment on.

Meanwhile, leaked emails have recently shown Gove’s inner circle using personal email addresses to avoid scrutiny of the Department for Education’s free schools policies.

As the people working closely with the Education Secretary find themselves increasingly in the spotlight, we take a look at Gove’s closest confidants.

Dominic Cummings
In September 2011 special adviser Dominic Cummings found himself thrust into the limelight when the Financial Times reported leaked emails showing Mr Cummings urging colleagues to use their gmail accounts rather than official departmental emails. The move is being investigated by the Information Commissioner to establish whether the private email accounts were intentionally used to conceal government business and information from public and civil service scrutiny.

The Guardian alleged that Cummings told a senior civil servant, ‘NSN [New Schools Network] is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figure on ‘expressions of interest’ [from people wishing to set up free schools] for PQs [parliamentary questions], FOIs [Freedom of Information requests] or anything else. Further, NSN has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all.’ If true this appears to directly contradict the transparent government that both the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and David Cameron promised in their election campaigns.

Cummings’s road to Gove’s inner-circle was not a smooth one. The County Durham man, described by the Tory website as ‘one of the party’s brightest thinkers’, was put forward by Gove for a special adviser position only to be vetoed by Andy Coulson, prime minister David Cameron’s own special adviser at the time. It seems Coulson was worried Cummings might leak information.

It was not long after Coulson left No 10, embroiled in the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, that Cummings finally took up the special adviser role under Gove.

Cummings attracted more attention when he met with Hollywood star Goldie Hawn in February 2010. Hawn has an education foundation specialising in how teaching methods can draw on neuroscience and social and emotional learning techniques.

Before entering politics he worked briefly in journalism and was brought in at one time to kick-start the Spectator website. One of Cummings’s first moves was to publish forbidden cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. His bold initiative must have impressed, today he is engaged to the Spectator’s deputy-editor Mary Wakefield.

Henry de Zoete
Henry de Zoete is another of Gove’s special advisers. Rumoured to be earning around £55,000 the media-savvy consultant was educated at Ludgrove and Eton, where he was in the year above Prince William.

Before joining the Department for Education de Zoete worked as research officer and campaigns manager for the Reform thinktank, as well as sharpening his media relations skills at Portland PR. While at Portland de Zoete helped Joanna Lumley with her Gurkha residency rights campaign.

The young adviser was fast-tracked to the role after Andy Coulson vetoed the more experienced Cummings.

Elena Narozanski
Narozanski began working on Gove’s team as a special adviser before leaving the position in early 2011 only to rejoin the team as a speech-writer. The civil service position offered a £42,000 annual salary.

Narozanski’s career progression did not go unnoticed and Gove came under fire for hiring public sector workers at a time when budgets were being slashed as well as for lining up a candidate for a supposedly open-application position.

Communications team
Besides special advisers Gove also relies heavily on his communications team to promote the Department’s policies.

James Frayne
Frayne holds the title of Director of Communications at the Department of Education. He came to the DfE from the Westbourne lobbying firm and previously worked at Portland PR.

Frayne previously worked with Cummings at anti-European think-tank NFF and de Zoete at Portland.

Gabriel Milland
Milland was plucked from Tory-leaning think tank Policy Exchange to become the DfE’s head of news. Gove was one of the founding members of Policy Exchange and has recently addressed the think tank on his Free Schools policy.

A recent addition to Gove’s team, Milland started two months ago, he brings with him the PR know-how he cultivated as head of media at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Before that he worked as political correspondent at the Daily Express.

Reporting to Frayne Milland is responsible for overseeing speechwriting and the internal communications as well as managing a press office of 15 staff.

Alexandra Gowlland
Gowlland is a senior speechwriter in the DfE and came to the role from her last position as parliamentary researcher to education minister Nick Gibb

Rachel Wolf
Former special adviser Rachel Wolf is now director of the New Schools Network (NSN).

The pro-free schools lobby group won an uncontested £500,000 grant to advise on Gove’s free schools scheme. The work was not publicly advertised and no other group was invited to bid for the work.

Wolf, who is in her mid-twenties, studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and Economics at Birkbeck. She has previously worked for Boris Johnson and the Institute of Education.

Related article: Giving to Gove: Education Secretary most attractive to Conservative donors.