As Michael Gove reflects on his latest intervention, what will have the greater impact on him as he surveys the weekend papers with his usual careful reading?
… the fact that he has annoyed huge numbers of heads, teachers, parents and children with his ill-timed (in the middle of exams for heaven’s sake), regressive (he wants to take us back to ‘Jennings Goes To School’ times) and half-baked (I believe Nick Clegg on this one) plans to scrap GCSEs and go back to two-tier exams…
Or the fact the The Sun made him ‘political hero of the week?’
Go to the Leveson inquiry website, read his evidence, and you have the answer.
Ludicrous as it may seem, there are many in the Tory Party who think that the next leadership election could be between George Osborne, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. And with David Cameron struggling, there are some who think it may come sooner rather than later.
Osborne’s star is currently on the wane because of a Budget that backfired and revealed near fatal strategic weakness, when strategy was meant to be his strength. Boris is Boris, to most people a joke, but not one to be underestimated, and Gove is, well, we will come on to that. But it does rather show up the paucity of talent in their ranks that this should be shaping up as a not very palatable choice.
Gove is the current media darling. There are two main reasons for that. First, he is something of a spokesman for the press in the Cabinet. His speech to the press gallery claiming Leveson was already having a ‘chilling’ effect on press freedoms was rank in its crassness vis a vis an inquiry set up by the Prime Minister, but he knew exactly what he was doing. He got up Leveson’s nose, and the press loved him for it.
Defiantly he took a more polite version of the same message when he gave evidence himself. The Tory right and the press loved him even more.
The second reason is that the right-wing-dominated media – most of whose leaders have no direct experience of State schools whatsoever – like his basic pitch on education, which is for a system that is based on elitism dressed up as higher standards for all.
As I never tire of saying, virtually all national editors use private schools for their own kids, in Paul Dacre’s case Eton (so so middle England yah!) They have a vested interest in running down State schools to justify their own decisions. And Gove plays along, rarely saying anything positive about State schools, talking up failure and ignoring success, as a way of justifying changes for which nobody voted (the return of the O-level being but the latest example.)
There is another great irony within all this. He bemoans dumbing down in schools. Yet by far the greatest contributor to the dumbing down of Britain has been our tabloid press, celebrity magazines and reality TV, all now swimming around in the same market place. And without doubt the biggest influence within the media at that time has been the man Gove hero-worships, and did so publicly at Leveson, namely Rupert Murdoch.
But to go back to my original question, I’m afraid I have reached the conclusion that he cares passionately what Murdoch, Dacre et al think of him, but cares very little of what teachers and parents think of him. Because education is for him just where he happens to be right now, but not where he wants to be in the future.
You take one look at him and you think ‘No, he doesn’t really think he could be PM does he?’ But then he says to himself ‘well Dave managed it, and he’s not exactly Brain of Britain is he? … and Boris is Mayor of London … so anything can happen.’
And meantime, as kids around the country work hard, do well and show the amazing talents so many of them have, the man in charge of their education sends them the message that they’re not really up to much at all, whatever grades they get. It is all, frankly, a bit weird. But is it terrifying that he is running our schools, dreaming up one potty idea after another to get right wing MPs behind him, and newspapers who couldn’t give two tosses about State schools singing his praises.
Nick Clegg had better be serious about blocking this one. And if he fails, then heads and teachers really should just refuse to do it. I was at a head teachers’ conference in Durham yesterday. Good people doing a good job. They have the support of most of the parents whose kids they teach. Gove has no mandate for this at all.