SpAds From Hell: After Fiona Cunningham, 12 Spinners Who Became The Story

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Whether they are causing mischief for their enemies, the press or their bosses, special advisors are there to take the flack and sometimes the fall for their ministers.

On Monday, it emerged the war of the cabinet ministers was actually the war of the so-called SpAds. Michael Gove and Theresa May were not the only ones at loggerheads over the 'Trojan Horse' letter which purported to reveal Islamist extremists infiltrating Birmingham schools. In fact, the row had been rumbling for months, with David Cameron's chief spinner Craig Oliver keen to deal a blow to May's SpAd Fiona Cunningham, who has now resigned.

So who are the most infamous SpAds behind the most famous politicians, who found themselves not just spinning the story, but becoming the story themselves.

  • 1
    Fiona Cunningham (Theresa May)
    Rex
    A former Sky journalist, Cunningham is extremely close to the Home Secretary, and has been credited with raising her profile. She is also in a relationship with former spy Charles Farr, Director of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, who has been blamed by sources in the DofE for allowing the 'Trojan Horse' saga to rumble on, unchallenged. Previously blamed for giving critical anonymous quotes to the Times about Gove, her downfall came with a decision to put a private letter from May to Gove on the Home Office website at 2am, for which she apparently did not ask permission from her boss. She was sacked, despite May's hesitancy.
  • 2
    Craig Oliver (David Cameron)
    Getty Images
    David Cameron’s communications chief Craig Oliver had not found himself personally engulfed in ministerial spats. Until now. The Mail said Oliver has been "spoiling for a fight with Cunningham for more than a year". It was reported by the BBC in March that Cameron regarded May as "grotesquely naive" for positioning herself as his successor, and that Cunningham was to blame for May's new-found confidence and fowardness. Just a few hours before the BBC story was broadcast, Oliver had been spotted having lunch with his old friend, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson. It is said to be Oliver who insisted Cunningham get the boot over the 'Trojan Horse' affair.
  • 3
    Dominic Cummings (Michael Gove)
    Getty
    Described as both a "genius" and a "menace", Cummings is not a figure who operated in the shadows, or minces his words. He described Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg as “self-obsessed”, “dishonest” and “a revolting character”. Clegg called him “some loopy individual who used to be a sort of back-room adviser”. He was also linked to an anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation, which attacks critics of Gove. It is not an official account, but is often abreast of key new policies, suggesting that it is run by people in the heart of government. It likened the FT's education correspondent, Chris Cook, to Walter Mitty, suggested he was a "stalker" and retweeted insulting insinuations about his personal life. The Observer said that Cummings and another advisor Henry de Zoete, were asked by then Tory party head of press to tone down the feed. Cummings quit to start a free school in October 2013.
  • 4
    Damian McBride (Gordon Brown)
    Getty Images
    With nicknames like 'McPoison' and 'Mad Dog', McBride was feared in SW1, but little known outside of the Westminster bubble. But in 2009 he became the story when resigned his position after it emerged on the Guido Fawkes blog that he and Labour blogger Derek Draper had considered fabricating rumours about senior Tories and their personal lives to smear them and their spouses. The emails from McBride had been sent from his No 10 email account. McBride later said that when he told Brown what he had done, the Prime Minister was so angry that he could not speak. He released a book about his time in power at the Labour party conference in 2013.
  • 5
    Alastair Campbell (Tony Blair)
    PA
    The former Mirror journalist and Blair's official spokesperson is probably the most famous political advisor of recent times. He was instrumental in making sure many leading newspapers – including the Sun, once a staunch Thatcherite organ – declared support for Labour. He was one of the key figures blamed for both heralding in the era of spin, and putting barriers up where there had been freer access between ministers and the press. Campbell was also one of those fingered for helping produce the 'dodgy dossier' for the Iraq War. He resigned in August 2003 during the Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly.
  • 6
    Andy Coulson (David Cameron)
    AP
    Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, was director of communications for Cameron until Coulson became embroiled in the phone-hacking scandal for which he is currently on trial. Coulson resigned from the News of the World in 2007 after Royal editor Clive Goodman was arrested and later jailed for phone hacking. But when allegations that hacking had been more widespread swirled, Coulson resigned in 2011. "I stand by what I've said about those events but when the spokesman needs a spokesman it's time to move on," he said. He was subsequently arrested and is charged with conspiracy to intercept communications. The trial continues.
  • 7
    Jo Moore (Stephen Byers)
    PA
    Moore was at the Department of Transport when she was forced to apologise for sending an e-mail to colleagues in which she suggested the day of the September 11th 2001 attacks was a good day to bury bad news. "It's now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors' expenses?" she wrote. Moore said she fully understood people's disgust at what she wrote and said she found it difficult to believe she had sent the e-mail. However, in 2002 the row flared up again when an email was revealed from adviser Martin Sixsmith to Moore saying "Princess Margaret is being buried [on Friday]. I will absolutely not allow anything else to be". Moore and Sixsmith both resigned after Downing Street called on Byers to get the continuing Whitehall spin row "sorted out". Moore re-trained to become a teacher in 2003.
  • 8
    Adam Smith (Jeremy Hunt)
    AP
    Smith was sacked in 2012 (to allow his boss to keep his role in cabinet) over cosy his emails to News Corp over the BSkyB takeover bid. He accepted that the “content and extent” of his contact with Murdoch's company had given the impression that the government had “too close a relationship” with the company. The Leveson inquiry found that Smith "got way too close" to public affairs director Fred Michel, including "probably passing on confidential government thinking". It emerged when Hunt appeared before the Leveson inquiry, that Hunt had himself been in text and private email contact with James Murdoch, congratulating him on the progress of the takeover bid, before he took over the adjudication. Smith was later hired by bookmaker Paddy Power.
  • 9
    Christopher Myers (William Hague)
    PA
    Hague's aide Christopher Myers actually didn't really do anything wrong. But he quit following speculation in 2010 over the pair's relationship, after it emerged they shared a hotel room. Hacks also queried why he had been given the position in the first place, give he was just 25, and although bright, not obviously qualified for such a senior role. "Neither of us would have shared a room so if we had thought that it in any way meant or implied something else," Hague said in a statement after Myers quit. "In hindsight I should have given greater consideration to what might have been made of that, but this is in itself no justification for allegations of this kind, which are untrue and deeply distressing to me, to [Hague's wife] Ffion and to Christopher." On the back of the insinuations, Hague and his wife decided to go public with intimate details about their private life because they had "had enough" of untrue allegations circulating on the internet. "I have made no secret of the fact that Ffion and I would love to start a family," he said. "We have encountered many difficulties and suffered multiple miscarriages, and indeed are still grieving for the loss of a pregnancy this summer." Of Myers, Hague said it was "a pity that a talented individual should feel that he needs to leave his job in this way."
  • 10
    Charlie Whelan (Gordon Brown)
    PA
    Whelan was spokesman for Labour politician Gordon Brown from 1992 to 1999. But he had to quit after leaking information to the press about the details surrounding his old enemy Peter Mandelson's resignation over a home loan. Whelan was also copied in on the smear emails from McBride, intended to damage Tory politicians and their families. As political director of Unite, he was instrumental in gaining support for Ed Miliband from the unions, which won him the Labour leadership.
  • 11
    Sir Bernard Ingham (Margaret Thatcher)
    PA
    Ingham, the granddaddy of spin doctors before the phrase was even coined, spent 11 years as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's chief press secretary. Ingham regularly used Downing Street lobby meetings, when they were 'off the record', to brief against other ministers in the cabinet and described the leader of the House of Commons John Biffen as a "semi-detached" member of the government. Biffen was later dropped in a reshuffle. Ingham also disproves the theory that the best spinners always meet their downfall eventually - he was knighted after Thatcher left office.

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