Michael Henderson

Michael Gove and the Ship of Fools

It lies rigged and fully masted in the harbour, the Ship of Fools, and soon it will be crewed by some of our favourite smarties. Is that Shami Chakrabarti charging down the gangway? It surely is. Those sharp elbows can be identified at a hundred paces. And is she being followed by Hanif Kureishi and Jeanette Winterson, eyes bulging like bulldog’s whatsits? Yes, they’re on parade too. Oh look, they’ve brought a chaplain, the Rev Giles Fraser. All shipshape and Bristol-fashion. Now they can cast off.

If a person may be judged by the quality of his enemies then Michael Gove currently rests only slightly lower than the angels. As hard as they try to paint him black the metropolitan progressives led by Chakrabarti and pals, who were invited by the ever-obliging Guardian to present a personal selection of set-book lists for GCSE pupils, merely reveal in their denunciations of the Education Secretary their own worst failings.

Should you require evidence of the shrill, hectoring nature of the modern liberal mind, Miss Chakrabarti supplies it in her estimation of To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel by Harper Lee that Gove has not, despite the contrived hoo-ha of the last month, banned from any classroom. The book, she writes with the moral fervour that has made her the nation’s sweetheart, ‘has inspired so many towards the cause of human rights, no wonder the government wants it off the syllabus’.

For Little Miss Bossy-Boots, Lee’s book is a shoe-in selection because it concerns ‘issues of gender, religious belief and bigotry’, a triple hit that sets the tone for what follows later from the Angry Brigade. Kureishi, an infant terrible who has not aged well, chooses a book of his own, which offers ‘an ideal introduction to our present concerns about religion and the limits of free speech’.

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