2nd October 2010
I rather like Michael Gove, the Education Minister. I would, wouldn’t I?
It’s seldom you come across any politician who, when talking about a politician from a different party, never uses the sceptical “ah, but” when expressing admiration. Refreshing.
It is not that Gove never takes a swipe at the opposition. He does. At such as Ed Balls and the Old Labour tribalists who instinctively went, teeth bared and sharpened for the throat of their most successful leader ever whenever it sensed an open target.
And he swipes, gently, with an “ah, but” on Ed Miliband. Personally I think that “choosing” Ed M was the biggest mistake that party has made since the two earlier mistakes – crowning Gordon Brown unopposed and getting rid of Tony Blair, in whichever order you prefer.
But for Tony Blair Mr Gove’s love affair continues unabated.
Well done that man for sticking by The Man. Your instincts are good, as, btw, is ‘A Journey’.
Excerpts, Guardian – Gove on A Journey, education reforms, Ed Balls, Ed Miliband.
‘Michael Gove jumps out of his armchair, rushes over to his desk and lovingly picks up a copy of a well-thumbed tome that has pride of place in his office at the education department, overlooking Westminster Abbey.
“I love A Journey, I have never read a book like it,” the education secretary says of Tony Blair’s bestselling memoirs. Gove opens it at his favourite page to read out, in a slow and admiring tone, Blair’s conclusion that opposition to public service reform can be beaten.
“There you are,” he says with a broad smile. “One of the other lessons of A Journey – there are many lessons in it – is don’t hang around.”
Gove’s mild crush on Blair shows he is a member of a small circle at the top of the Conservative party which believes the former Labour prime minister set in train historic reforms to public services. These were stymied by Gordon Brown, say the Tory Blair fan club, leaving it to the coalition government to complete the process of freeing schools and hospitals.
A member of the Conservative elite that advised David Cameron on his path to No 10, Gove was given the task of finishing the Blair revolution in education. Legislation was rushed through before the summer recess to make it easier for schools to apply for academy status and to create a new generation of “free” schools run by parents and voluntary groups. Gove is now seeking solace in the thoughts of Blair to answer criticism that he has been thrown off course by the bumpy pace of schools reform.
“If you are first out of the trap, then anti-reform forces think ‘Here we are,'” Gove says. “Some of the people who have been most encouraging, and there are many silent supporters, are Labour politicians who have said ‘Crack on.'”
Gove will use the Conservative conference in Birmingham next week to show that, having rushed academies legislation on to the statute book at breakneck speed, he is pressing ahead with the next stage of schools reform. This will focus on improving the lot of teachers by giving them greater rights to discipline unruly pupils.
Gove the historian is taking a pop at Labour. Gove the politician smothers Ed Miliband with praise before taking a pop at the new Labour leader.
“I like Ed Miliband personally,” he says, recalling frequently shared platforms after their election in 2005. “Ed was a great speaker, fluent, witty, authoritative, intelligent – tripped me up several times with some of my lazy thinking. And always nice, not in the sense of being soft or yielding to a Tory on anything.”
But Miliband had betrayed a weakness. “Ed seemed to regard being a Tory as some sort of curious choice. It was something you might have inherited from your parents and you probably couldn’t help, or it might be an eccentricity. But you couldn’t actually believe it. The difference therefore between Ed and Tony Blair is that Tony Blair, partly because his dad was a Tory, understood aspiration.”
Gove, saying he would have voted for David Miliband as the “smartest guy in the room”, laughs at the manner in which the new leader was elected. “Labour has a choice,” he says of what a senior party figure told him. “It can either have a coach who will take it off the floor and get it match-fit again. Or it can have someone who just gives it a nice massage and says ‘There there. Don’t worry’. Quite a lot of Labour MPs and quite a lot of members of the Labour party said they’d like a coach, but the trade union members say ‘No, can we opt for the scented lavender oil and the whale music please.'”
On the deficit, Gove says Miliband may be making a mistake. “You may have a tactical hanging back, picking off what is seen to be the most unpopular cuts without any rigorous analysis of what should be done,” he says.
“But it would be fatal, absolutely fatal, for us to underestimate Ed Miliband’s strengths. He is intelligent, he is decent, he is humane. During a time of economic austerity that could be made palatable.”
Blair again provides a lesson as Gove warns Miliband to be wary of warm praise from critics of the former prime minister. “If they’re happy that tells us something very profound,” he says with a chuckle.’
Not that Michael Gove is getting off scot-free. Far from it. For instance, Fiona Miller, partner of Alastair Campbell (?), had this before Ed was crowned King Mili:
Don’t let Michael Gove off the hook – ‘Labour’s leadership hopefuls are dispiritingly quiet on education policy and Gove’s scrapping of 700 new school buildings’
So we have the confusing situation where those to the left of Blair, who at first argued against Blair’s package of education reforms as “privatisation”, now support them, without actually admitting the seed-corn was his. At the same time they criticise Gove for junking the school buildings’ expansion for cost reasons. Gove is at least strategically far closer to Blair’s ideas on education reform than many in Labour.
What was it Blair used to say? What counts is what works.
‘He was asked if he had known then what he knows now about weapons of mass destruction, would he still have supported the invasion? Blair said something that is not popular today: that although we did not find WMDs when we went in, that does not mean that there had not been such weapons; they may have been spirited out in Russian convoys, just before we went in. (I believe this too.) And he noted that had we not gone in, Saddam would have restarted his programs; all the scientists and facilities were in place and just needed a go-ahead. (I heard this from an Iraqi physicist who defected to the US as well.)
Blair obviously believes that all people deserve to have decent governance. I would like that too—but I don’t think we few can take on the billions of people living in ignorance who are not ready for participatory governance. But Blair is tireless.’
2. A review of A Journey. A step in the right direction, though still wrong about Iraq. Still, at least Blair is not described as a lying, warmongering villain, which is a start. Excerpt:
‘And so Blair was obviously a assured and remarkable leader and I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when i say that Britain misses him. Obama, Cameron and Brown all have had the opportunity to correct the west’s actions in the Middle East but none were brave enough to do something about it. It seems to me personally that Blair has been made a scapegoat by numerous deluded people who should probably look somewhere else for one. Tony Blair is essentially a good, honest family man, which is plain to see when reading this book.’
Sign the Ban Blair-Baiting petition here
“Mr. Blair is one of the finest politicians to have had the priviledge of serving the United Kingdom, and Britons are fortunate to have had him as their Prime Minister. Time will show that Mr. Blair’s approach to affairs in the Middle East were and remain correct. From a member of the Commonwealth, thank you, Mr. Blair, for your continued service to legitimate and lasting (and not convenient or politically expedient) freedom.”
AND – “Tony Blair was the greatest Prime Minister since Winston Churchill and the only regret I have he didn’t get my vote as I live in Canada.”
AND – ““I am sick and tired of television and radio interviewers asking the same old questions over and over, regarding the decision to go to war in Iraq, presumably they hope Mr Blair will let slip some secret information which they would then use against him. History will show if the decision was the right one, (I believe it was) but people must accept that Tony Blair is a honourable man, and made his decision based on the known facts and not with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.”