Michael Gove is by some distance the most brilliant and effective member of David Cameron’s Cabinet.
All right: so maybe this is a bit like being the fastest downhill ski-racer in Jamaica, or the greatest military hero in Italy, or the most sceptical thinker at Greenpeace.
Nevertheless, the mighty Gove undoubtedly towers above the majority of his snivelling, career-safe, vote-grubbing, spineless, brain-dead, cynical, grasping, principle-free, useless-as-a-chocolate-fireguard Coalition colleagues as far as doth the Capitol exceed the meanest house in Rome.
As Education Secretary, he has worked a miracle of which not even Margaret Thatcher was capable. He has defeated – or at least seriously weakened the power of – The Blob.
The Blob is Gove’s nickname for the progressive educational establishment which for decades has worked so hard to destroy our children’s future. If you have grown up illiterate, innumerate, unfit, ambition-free and intellectually spavined, then it is almost certainly the fault of The Blob and its various similarly malign Slimealikes from America to Australasia.
It was the Blob that invented “child-centred” teaching, non-competitive sports days, grade inflation, the “all shall have prizes” ethos, the “real books” method (as opposed to the one that works: phonics), dumbing down, teachers so protected that they were impossible to sack for incompetence, and so on.
And now Gove has squished it. And poured salt on it. And caused it to writhe and shriek and squirm and bubble hideously, as dying Blob creatures do.
Toby Young provides a list of Gove’s achievements here and they are indeed many.
Thanks to Michael Gove, standards in Britain’s abysmal state education system are rising; exams are more rigorous; teachers have greater disciplinary powers over the minority of really bad children who spoil it for the majority; good teachers are better rewarded while rubbish ones are more likely to be sacked; Shakespeare is now sometimes studied in full than in meaningless gobbets; schools have been freed from the dead hand of local authorities; parents have more choice; bright, working-class children – for perhaps the first time since Labour destroyed the grammar schools – have a chance of experiencing social mobility…
So why is Gove being given so much grief?
All the last week in the media it has been open season on Gove, culminating in a deeply weird interview in the Spectator by children’s author Anthony Horowitz who decides that “it is possible the minister is a monster.”
And his grounds for reaching this conclusion? He can’t really put his finger on it. It’s just a vague, uncomfortable feeling he has:
His vision should be uplifting but I cannot say that I particularlyenjoyed my encounter with Michael Gove. It’s very strange. I have arguedwith so many teachers and other authors that he is a wholly benevolentman, a reformer who is actually improving the lives of children acrossthe country. Even now, that opinion has not changed. But nobody can beas certain as he is. Nobody can be right all the time.
I quite understand Horowitz’s frustration. One of Gove’s many fine qualities – if it is a fine quality: not if you’ve been sent to interview him or if you’re a mate and you’re trying to get the inside story on what’s really happening in the Cameron administration – is his maddening discretion. Gove isn’t naturally this way. He loves a good gossip as much as anyone, especially after a few drinks. But on assuming the mantle of political responsibility Gove appears to have undertaken a decision akin to the young Arthur Wellesley’s burning of his violin. The task ahead of him would require such adamantine purpose that he could not afford to jeopardise his mission with frivolousness or weakness.
And, yes, if you’ve had any dealings with the left-wing educational establishment, you’ll appreciate they’re that at least as intractable and malodorous a foe as anything Wellesley – later the Duke of Wellington – ever faced in India or the Peninsula or at Waterloo.
Horowitz isn’t totally wrong on Gove, though. The thing he finds so distasteful about Gove is precisely what so infuriated the many enemies of Margaret Thatcher.
“It’s his singlemindedness that troubles me…” writes Horowitz.
Gove is that rare thing, a conviction politician. And, like Margaret Thatcher, he is that even rarer thing – a conviction politician who has managed to escape the ghetto of the back benches and reach a position of sufficiently high office to make a real difference.
This conviction has unfortunately been sorely lacking in most conservative politicians, on both sides of the Atlantic, since the dream partnership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. They’re far too eager to be liked, far too ready to jettison conservative principles if their focus groups and campaign advisers tell them it will grub them a few extra votes.
I’m sure Gove doesn’t like being hated, any more than Baroness Thatcher did. But I think he understands, as she did, that it is the price you have to pay for getting things done.
“If you set out to be liked you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing,” as Margaret Thatcher once put it.
Does this mean that I think Gove would be the best choice to replace Cameron as leader as the Conservative party and, ideally, as Prime Minister? I wish. So does Rupert Murdoch which, of course, is what Gove’s current media experiences In Stahlgewittern are really all about. Gove confided over dinner with Murdoch that he would rather see Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne as the next Conservative party leader than Mayor of London Boris Johnson. Johnson got to hear of this and is terribly miffed, because he’d clearly rather been hoping that Gove was his man, not the upstart tic Chancellor’s. So war has broken out between Friends of Gove/Murdoch/Osborne/Cameron and Friends of Boris (of which there are many), plus anyone on the left
Personally, I think Boris would make a much more attractive and entertaining Prime Minister than Osborne, and that Gove – were he up for it, which he isn’t, nor is his wife Sarah – would be better still. But it will never happen, I don’t reckon, because Gove – an avid Game of Thrones fan – well understands how vulnerable and oddly powerless you are when you hold the top job. It’s the King’s Hand who gets the real business done.