James Forsyth James Forsyth

Michael Gove’s moral mission

Few modern-day political speeches need to be read in full, but Michael Gove’s today does. The speech to Policy Exchange’s Education Conference contains what must be the moral core of modern-day Conservatism, that disadvantage must not be destiny. Though, the speech does take a very Blairite approach to means. Gove declares that ‘what’s right is what works’.

The headlines have been grabbed by Gove’s argument that illiteracy can be ended in a generation. This is a noble aim and there’s no reason why this country should be so accepting of educational failure as it is. It is hard to dispute this part of Gove’s argument:

‘How can it be right that more than a fifth of children left primary school without having reached a basic level of literacy and numeracy?
We wouldn’t accept a fifth of hospital operations going wrong or a fifth of flights ending badly. So why should we accept a system in which school standards were still too low?’

There are a few other clues to the next Tory manifesto in the speech. Gove seems to suggest that child benefit will be docked from parents whose children don’t attend school. He also implies that there will be further reforms to GCSEs if the Tories win the next election.

Gove has had a difficult few days; his spat with Theresa May over extremism in schools has irritated even some of his closest Cabinet allies. But today’s speech is a reminder that it is the Gove agenda that provides the Cameron project with its moral purpose.

Full speech below.

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