Michael Gove has written a staunch defence of the government’s 14 years of ‘achievements’ for Conservative Home. ‘Do we really want to go back to square one?’ the Tory MP and ‘levelling-up secretary’ asks, reminding us of the dim, dark and distant days of the country after 13 years under Labour.
If that was genuinely on offer, I’d snap Gove’s hand off. It may seem hard to remember but in 2009 it was still generally understood that jokes are jokes and not statements of genocidal intent, that there are two sexes, that economic growth is a pretty spiffing idea and that the police are there to enforce civic order. Yes, there were many problems and incipient disasters clearly looming, many of those the products of the Labour administration. But the nation voted the Tories in to deal with those problems – instead they made almost all of them far, far worse.
Gove’s long and often bizarre defence of 14 worse-than-wasted years is a bit uncanny. He is a very intelligent and capable man. But like all of us, he has to live with himself. We all tell ourselves stories to get by in the world, editing our memories and rewriting and retconning our pasts to make ourselves heroes, our failures and flaws reimagined as picturesque and bold rather than caddish or idiotic. The trick with that is to make it tally at least slightly with reality. Here, Gove is on a sticky wicket.
The brass neck of saying ‘Just look at all of our achievements!’ is an achievement in itself. Gove is saying it to a country that’s demoralised, divided, angry and skint; a nation where trying to get a GP appointment is like chasing quicksilver; where the stifling new religion of equality, diversity and inclusion has infected everything from sitcoms to the army; where there are weekly demonstrations of mass ethnic hatred on city streets and the police nod them by.