Fact check: what did Michael Gove actually say about ‘experts’?

Fact check: what did Michael Gove actually say about 'experts'?
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Misquotes are all too common in British politics. Whether it's Thatcher and 'no such thing as society' or Callaghan with 'Crisis? What crisis?' too often a lie can be halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on – as Churchill, err, didn't say. 

But one hope would hope for better standards from the head of Britain's leading university. Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of Oxford University has made headlines (again) for her comments on a panel about Michael Gove's words during the 2016 Brexit referendum. Speaking at Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit, Richardson said: '

Michael Gove, the British cabinet minister who I am embarrassed to confess we educated, famously said after it was pointed out to him by a journalist that all the experts opposed Brexit, he said: ‘Oh we’ve had enough of experts.' With the vaccine, it seems like the public can’t get enough of experts. Many of our scientists have become household names. We have demonstrated through the vaccine work and the development of therapeutics and so on just how much universities can contribute and that’s enormously helpful to our cause.

Leaving aside the 'embarrassment' of educating an adopted Aberdonian who now sits at the Cabinet table, Richardson's comments are simply not accurate. The full quote makes clear that it was talking very particularly about misguided forecasts from specific organisations, with Gove's comments back in June 2016 actually being:

I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.

The vice-chancellor of course knew her audience and was delivering a paean to expertise and academic merit. Fortunately for her, Michael Gove's school reforms will mean much more of that at Oxford in the future and from less-privileged backgrounds too. 

More than half of England’s children are now educated in academies, with just 200 such schools in 2010 rising to more than 8,000 now thanks to Gove's four years at the Department of Education. Standout examples include Brampton Manor Academy which had 55 Oxbridge places this year – seven more than Eton – and the London Academy of Excellence with 37 such offers.

That's hardly something for Richardson to be 'embarrassed' about.

Written bySteerpike

Steerpike is The Spectator's gossip columnist, serving up the latest tittle tattle from Westminster and beyond. Email tips to or message @MrSteerpike

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