MICHAEL Gove’s Cabinet Office used taxpayers’ money to carry out polling on opposition politicians, a court has heard, in revelations the SNP described as “utterly damning for the Tories”.

Documents were presented to a hearing last week by lawyers acting for campaigners in the Good Law Project (GLP).

The case related to the award of a public contract to associates of Gove and the Prime Minister's former aide Dominic Cummings at Hanbury, a firm of consultants.

On its website today the GLP said it had presented documents which showed that Hanbury, under the instruction of the Cabinet Office, was given taxpayers’ money to conduct "political polling" on key opposition figures, including Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

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It said that emails it had uncovered found that the decision to spend public money polling on opposition politicians left civil servants deeply uncomfortable.

One civil servant said in an email: "Hanbury measure attitude towards political figures, which they shouldn’t do using government money, but they have been asked to and it’s a battle that I think is hard to fight."

Documents unearthed in the course of the hearing also include an email from Cummings to civil servants in March 2020 demanding approval is given "immediately" for Hanbury to commence polling work.

The email added: "Anybody in CABOFF whines tell them I ordered it from PM".

The GLP said that one civil servant wrote: "This all makes me really uncomfortable. Ben Warner [a close ally of Cummings from the Vote Leave campaign and former Downing Street advisor] wants us to spend £110k of public money per month with the agency who were behind vote leave who have no mainstream polling experience."

Tommy Sheppard, the SNP MP, said: “These revelations are utterly damning for the Tories - but show that they can’t dodge scrutiny on these matters any longer.

“It’s clear thee UK government was more occupied with dissecting their own political fortunes than tackling the COVID crisis. Spending more than a hundred thousand pounds for their own benefit is scandalous - and the shroud of secrecy surrounding these contracts using public money is deeply alarming.

“While Dominic Cummings himself appears to have overridden the concerns of civil servants who were reportedly uncomfortable with these dodgy dealings, other key Vote Leave figures were being handed cushy contracts.

Westminster is broken - and independence is the only way for Scotland to escape self-serving governments we don’t vote for.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman denied that polling on political figures was carried out.

He told The National: "We publish all our contracts in line with transparency guidance, and this contract [to Hanbury] has been published on Contracts Finder. The contract was approved by civil servants. On polling of ‘political figures’, this polling was part of work on the suitability of a variety of spokespeople to deploy important public health messages. We do not and cannot carry out party political polling."

Last month a High Court judge ruled that a UK Government decision to award a contract to a company whose bosses were friends of adviser Cummings was unlawful.

Campaigners took legal action against the Cabinet Office over the decision to pay more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First, following the start of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020, and questioned the involvement of Cummings. Ministers, and Cummings – who left Downing Street late in 2020 – disputed the GLP's claim.

Justice O’Farrell considered rival arguments at a virtual High Court hearing in February and delivered a ruling in June.

The judge said in her ruling: “The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”

A spokesperson for Public First said at the time: “We’re deeply proud of the work we did in the early stages of the pandemic, which helped save lives.

“The judge rejected most of the Good Law Project’s claims, not finding actual bias in the awarding of this work, nor any problems with the pace or scale of the award.

“Rather, the judge found that weak internal processes gave rise to the appearance of bias. The judge made no criticism whatsoever of Public First anywhere in the judgment.”

Barrister Jason Coppel QC, who represented the Good Law Project, had told the court Public First is a “small research agency” whose directors and owners are Rachel Wolf and her husband, James Frayne who have “long-standing personal relationships” with both Cummings and Gove.

Cummings did not give evidence at the hearing but outlined his position in a written witness statement seen by the judge.

He said the country was facing an emergency because of the coronavirus crisis and “the award of the contract without delay” was “entirely justified”.

Responding to the latest claims heard in court, a Cabinet Office spokesperson told The National today: "In response to an unprecedented global pandemic, the Government acted with urgency to undertake vital research into public attitudes and behaviours.

"This research shaped crucial public health messages, helping us to protect the NHS and save lives."

The Cabinet Office is appealing the ruling in the Public First case.

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A spokesperson said: "We cannot comment further on ongoing legal proceedings. Polling and insight work is about understanding what different audiences think about current and potential government policy and the government regularly undertakes polling and insight work in order to better understand important issues.

"Procurement regulations, which pre-date Covid to 2015 allow for contracts to be awarded without a competitive tender in circumstances of extreme urgency."

The Good Law Project has played a role in bringing to court a number of successful legal fights to the Brexit process, including Boris Johnson's illegal attempt to prorogue parliament.

Joanna Cherry the SNP MP and QC was also involved in the action.