Status anxiety

Cameron was right to move Gove

I am shocked to see the Education Secretary go, but in the Prime Minister's shoes I might have done the same

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

I tried to reach Michael Gove on Tuesday shortly after the news broke that he’d been moved to the Whips’ Office. I’m quite relieved he never called back, because my intention was to offer my condolences, never a good idea when a friend suffers a setback. I know from experience that any expression of pity when some calamity befalls you only makes it ten times worse. ‘Oh Christ,’ you think. ‘Is it really that bad?’

In Gove’s case, I don’t think it is. He achieved more in his four years as Education Secretary than his predecessors did in 40. Given the hostility of the education establishment to even the mildest of reforms, it’s remarkable he lasted that long.

In truth, the antagonism of people like Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, was never a problem for Gove. As Dominic Cummings, his former special adviser, has said more than once, opposition in Downing Street was always more of a problem than the opposition of the teaching unions.

It wasn’t David Cameron that was the problem, so much as people like Nick Clegg and Edward Llewellyn whispering in his ear. They didn’t like Gove’s revolutionary rhetoric or his confrontational style and often found themselves being used as conduits for complaints from people he had upset — junior Lib Dem ministers, for instance, or senior DfE officials.

[Alt-Text]


I was never privy to private conversations between Gove and the Prime Minister, but always got the impression that he pretended to be exasperated with his troublesome Education Secretary, but in reality accepted that it was impossible for Gove to see through his reform programme without ruffling a few feathers. So long as Gove retained the support of Cameron, he was safe, regardless of how many letters education ‘experts’ wrote to the Guardian.

But the Prime Minister’s patience clearly ran out. Gove picked too many fights. It’s one thing upsetting the numerous individuals and groups with a vested interest in defending the status quo, but did he really have to antagonise Theresa May? If Spitting Image was still going, you can imagine a Gove puppet barrelling into the cabinet room, pint of lager in hand, and shouting ‘What you staring at?’ to no one in particular.

Gove’s critics (including Clegg) have always tried to portray this as a personality defect — a joie de guerre that is more suited to a battalion commander than a senior politician. In fact, it’s just a consequence of the fact that he’s a man of conviction. He has such a strongly held set of beliefs that he finds it impossible to hold back when confronted with someone who doesn’t share them — or, worse, professes to share them, but then does something completely at odds with them. The failure of senior Home Office civil servants to ‘drain the swamp’ is a case in point.

In a sense, Gove’s downfall as Education Secretary was inevitable. In order to reverse 50 years of decline in England’s public education system, Cameron needed someone with unshakeable convictions and a will of iron — a politician steely enough to see through a set of reforms that would result in protestors burning effigies of him up and down the country. But, not surprisingly, a man like that would also say things, both in private and in public, that would get his colleagues’ backs up and require a greater and greater expenditure of political capital to protect. And Cameron never had that much political capital to begin with.

As someone at the coalface of education reform, I am disappointed to see Gove moved. Will his successor, Nicky Morgan, have the courage to stand behind the unpopular measures he has introduced? The fate of the nation’s schoolchildren is in the balance. But if I were the Prime Minister, I probably would have stuck Gove in the Whips’ Office too. Not only will be forced to rein himself in — his job will be to put out fires, not to start them — but he’ll have more time to devote to defending the government’s programme in the run-up to the next election. And few senior cabinet ministers have Gove’s ready wit and debating flair. When you’re on a war footing, you want Gove in the command bunker, plotting the enemy’s downfall.

I will miss having a man of his quality in my corner. But I’m certainly going to enjoy watching him make mincemeat of Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman over the next few months.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.


More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.

Show comments
  • sarah_13

    Cameron never ceases to make bad decisions in my view. The teachers and unions will think they have won and worse that they have won the argument.

  • https://belasariust.wordpress.com/ solly gratia

    Maybe the right decision. Bad timing. Gove should have been left to offer his resignation at a later date to focus on the election, knowing that someone else would be able to continue his work. This has all the signs of Cameron pulling the plug on the reforms – whether he has or not is immaterial – and the unions rejoiced accordingly. Handled very badly, must do better. C-

  • sameerakhan

    As always Toby, you’re avoiding the primary reason for Gove’s sacking here. The issue here is one of simple electoral politics.

    As the Ipsos-Mori poll shows, Gove is both widely known and deeply unliked by a majority of the public, with just 22% liking him and 54% disliking him. The popularity of his policies (I admit to be a supporter) on education are not very different, liked by 25 per cent but disliked by 51 per cent.

    Given that is the case, I don’t think Cameron had any option but to sack Gove and put him someplace where he can’t turn off potential voters any more.

    I’m pretty sure he’ll get back in the cabinet in the unlikely event of a Tory majority in 2015. If a Con-Lib coalition happens, it’s hard to see him being given a post of any importance.

    Support the only party that promises to bring back grammar schools, vote UKIP.

    • Hugh

      That makes no sense at all in practical terms, though, does it? UKIP aren’t going to form a government. If they do brilliantly well at the election the result is either a Labour majorty or LibLab coalition. In both cases, Gove’s policies are probably toast and grammar schools more likely to close than open.

      • sameerakhan

        I’ll vote for the party that most closely embodies the politics that I want to see. If enough people do that, maybe after 2015 the Tory party will dump Cameron and become a truly conservative party and not just the big business crony capitalist version of Labour.

    • vircantium

      Yet if he was so toxic with the public, why is he apparently going to be one of the prominent standard bearers in the run up to the GE? Young is right in that Gove has gone because he picked a fight with Saint Theresa of May – and, of the two of the, given that he has untrendy genitalia he was always going to be the one that Dripping Wet Dave would demote.

      • sameerakhan

        “Yet if he was so toxic with the public, why is he apparently going to be one of the prominent standard bearers in the run up to the GE?”

        Yeah right. Dripping Wet Dave can say anything he wants about Gove’s demoted role to assuage his bruised ego and his toxicity among the general public, but when was the last time that the campaigning in a general election was led by The Chief Whip?

    • global city

      To do that, or anything that would improve education in the UK, the Blob itself needs to be eliminated. Gove’s error was thinking that he could merely ignore the Blob, slag off the Blob and irritate the Blob.

      • sameerakhan

        From an ideological standpoint, you might be right. But you have to understand that the general public (the same people who exhibit a very low approval of Give and his policies) doesn’t think this way. In general, they don’t hate teachers or distrust the heads or suspect schools of being against their students.

        Call me Dave can ignore public opinion but then he wouldn’t be able to shore up the Tory party’s chances of ending up as the largest party.

  • James Jones

    Gove gone:-(

    The only person in government prepared to say stop.

    To say stop that is to islamic activists determined to change Britain to their liking.

    Doomed I tell ye.

    • GraveDave

      To say stop that is to islamic activists determined to change Britain to their liking.

      No, his main bugbear was the far safer to beat up, far right.

  • suburbanman

    As someone at the coalface of education reform, I am disappointed to see Gove moved Lol.. probably the only person in the UK to do so… Oh wait…not got funding yet for your pet project…. shame…

  • derekemery

    It’s impossible to improve education because left liberals are in positions of power throughout education. They believe in equality (the antithesis of performance) UK education is now down to dross levels in OECD tables so they have succeeded. The only part of education left to be dumbed down are top universities. Entrance to these requires you to have attended a good school which will have stretched you academically (again the antithesis of equality)
    Top universities will have very few entrants from the average comprehensive.. No matter what their potential once might have been it will not have been realised and they will not be up to the more difficult work at top universities.
    Hence the insistence on these universities taking on percentages of students from certain backgrounds. This is the secret formula for dumbing down as these universities will be required to change their courses to be compatible with poorly performing students they have to take on. The job in nearly done. The dumb-downers have virtually won.

  • CharleyFarleyFive

    Appalling decision by Cameron who would do well to realise people respect conviction politicians who get things done. To hell with his ‘likeability’ poll ratings. I dare say the vast majority of those that apparently dislike him would never vote Conservative anyway.

    • GraveDave

      Later on when the stardust falls from your eyes, you will learn that his removal wasn’t just about his likability rating.

  • John Steed

    I remember Toby Young at University. He used to wander round with a copy of the Sun in his back pocket, thinking (I guess) that he was being amusingly provocative. Seemed like a prat. The thought that someone of his calibre should have anything to do with reforming the education system is a bit depressing, but that’s politics I guess.

    • Dougie

      But Tobes has not been involved in reforming the education system through “politics”. He has been doing it at a local level by actually getting his hands dirty. What have you done to reform the education system?

      • GraveDave

        How is that getting your hands dirty?

  • Michael Rought-Brooks

    Toby Young at the coalface of education? He’s not even at the chalkface. He’s just an ideologist like Blower and Gove. In fact he’s just a right wing pub bore but without his UKIP/EDL T-shirt on.

  • agneau

    But…but….how could Gove possibly continue without Toby’s good wishes. I’m sure if there was anyone Michael wanted to hear from it was the Robin to his Batman of education. Unless Gove has taken the precaution most people have – Toby Young is a bit lengthy for a contact name on their ‘phone, so people simply put “ignore” or “tw*t”.

  • John McEvoy

    What about making mincemeat of Windmill Dave, the arch-Federast, Statist and Climate Commie?

    • global city

      Toby thinks that none of this stuff is more important than ‘Dave’ winning power.

  • George Scoresby

    Toby, stop being such a lick spittle.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Will she? No she won’t. She is a cypher who will do nothing at ll. Woman cabinet ministers are good at that (pace the great Theresa). Is she good-looking? Helpful if she is.

    By the way Toby, my old pal, my old beauty, are you REALLY the Honourable someone. Here’s to you if you are.

    The general drift of your article I agree with, you will be delighted tom hear.

  • timbazo

    Girls in Birmingham told that husbands have the moral right to rape their wives. Gove must be so proud of himself.

    • global city

      The environment of political fear and oppression was not Gove’s responsibility… it was another manifestation of the dogma of the commie Blob!

      • GraveDave

        Gove is just another atomic particle of the same blob.

    • GraveDave

      Gove was very busy at the time fighting the possibility of a BNP ‘schools infiltration’. After a vote casting article, written for the Guardian and a few minor articles elsewhere (and Cameron’s Operation Blackvote initiative),the total tally of BNP teachers in the country was found to be just Two. And brothers at that. One has since been booted anyway. Yet both the centrist right and not a few of the far right go on singing this man’s praises.
      Also remember he is a former member of the NUJ, whose mandate is to play down any failures on the multicultural question.

  • global city

    Your loyalty to the party, Comrade Young, will serve you well.

    Cameron is probably completely unaware of your existence.

  • Steve Read

    Hope Nicky can borrow Gove’s balls as he was the only one in the cabinet with any.

  • http://www.military.com/spouse/military-deployment/reintegration/returning-to-home-life-after-deployment.html Jeffrey Dowling

    Thanks to Dr Brave for bringing back my wife,and brought great joy to my family?

    Hello to every one out here, am here to share the unexpected miracle that happened to me three days ago, My name is Jeffrey Dowling,i live in TEXAS,USA.and I`m happily married to a lovely and caring wife,with two kids A very big problem occurred in my family seven months ago,between me and my wife so terrible that she took the case to court for a divorce she said that she never wanted to stay with me again,and that she did not love me anymore So she packed out of my house and made me and my children passed through severe pain. I tried all my possible means to get her back,after much begging,but all to no avail and she confirmed it that she has made her decision,and she never wanted to see me again. So on one evening,as i was coming back from work,i met an old friend of mine who asked of my wife So i explained every thing to her,so she told me that the only way i can get my wife back,is to visit a spell caster,because it has really worked for her too So i never believed in spell,but i had no other choice,than to follow her advice. Then she gave me the email address of the spell caster whom she visited.(bravespellcaster@gmail.com}, So the next morning,i sent a mail to the address she gave to me,and the spell caster assured me that i will get my wife back the next day what an amazing statement!! I never believed,so he spoke with me,and told me everything that i need to do. Then the next morning, So surprisingly, my wife who did not call me for the past seven {7}months,gave me a call to inform me that she was coming back So Amazing!! So that was how she came back that same day,with lots of love and joy,and she apologized for her mistake,and for the pain she caused me and my children. Then from that day,our relationship was now stronger than how it were before,by the help of a spell caster . So, was now stronger than how it were before,by the help of a spell caster . So, i will advice you out there to kindly visit the same website http://bravespellcaster.yolasite.com,if you are in any condition like this,or you have any problem related to “bringing your ex back. So thanks to Dr Brave for bringing back my wife,and brought great joy to my family once again.{bravespellcaster@gmail.com} , Thanks.

    Are you passing through any of these problems,

    DO YOU NEED YOUR EX BACK VERY FAST

    DON YOU WANT YOUR LOVER TO LOVE YOU AS NEVER LIKE BEFORE

    ARE YOU SUFFERING FROM A LONG TIME SICKNESS

    ARE YOU FACING FINANCIAL PROBLEMS

    ARE YOU SEEKING FOR A GOOD JOB

    DO YOU WANT TO BECOME A HOUSE OWNER

    ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A FIRST CLASS GRADE

    DO YOU WANT TO COME OUT FIRST IN YOUR EXAMS

    ARE YOU A STAR AND YOU WANT TO BE SO POPULAR TO THE WHOLE WORLD

    DO YOU WANT TO BE RICH

    DO YOU WANT YOUR BUSINESS TO KEEP MOVING

    DO YOU HAVE A COMPANY OF ANY KIND AND YOU WANT IT TO EXPAND

    DO YOU WANT YOUR HUSBAND OR WIFE TO KEEP TO YOUR WORLD

    ARE YOU FACING ANY MARITAL PROBLEMS

    ARE YOU FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO GET PREGNANT FOR YOUR HUSBAND

    ARE YOU EXPERIENCING MISCARRIAGES ANY TIME YOU TAKE IN

    DO YOU WANT TO COMPETE IN ANY LOTTERY GAME

    ARE YOU FACING HARDSHIP

    HAVE YOU BEEN THREATENED BY SOMEONE

    DO YOU WANT TO BE SUCCESSFUL IN ANY THING YOU LAY YOUR HANDS ON

    IS YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER BEHAVING STRANGELY

    ARE YOU FACING WITCH CRAFT MANIPULATIONS

    DO YOU WANT TO CAST A STRONG LOVE SPELL ON YOUR GIRL OR BOY FRIEND

    DO YOU NEED MAGIC POWERS TO DO ANY THING YOU WANT

    ARE YOU FINDING IT DIFFICULT TO CHOOSE A LIFE PARTNER

    DO YOU WANT YOUR PARENTS TO BE PROUD OF YOU

    ARE YOU EXPERIENCING FAILURE AND DISAPPOINTMENT IN ANY THING YOU DO.(ETC)

    IF you are in any condition like this,or you have any problem related to “bringing your ex back. So thanks to Dr Brave for bringing back my wife,and brought great joy to my family once again.{bravespellcaster@gmail.com} , Thanks.———-

Close
Can't find your Web ID? Click here