Michael Gove could be prime minister
Michael Gove was interesting in his interview with Iain Martin for Standpoint magazine. I am an admirer of Gove’s, and not just because I worked with him at the BBC in the early 1990s (around the time that he wrote a biography of Michael Portillo, thinking that he would be a future prime minister).
What he has done to secure and advance Tony Blair’s reforms of schools is one of the most compelling reasons for preferring the Government to the Opposition.
I am also an admirer of Iain Martin’s; his return to blogging* has provided a welcome uplift to the internet. His superb write-up of the interview asks, “Will Michael Gove Go All the Way to No 10?” Which is interesting because I had just been discussing precisely that question with a wise old hand who is no Tory but who could see it happening. After all, he said, it was quite easy to see how Boris Johnson or George Osborne might not be first choice when a vacancy arose.
Gove is one of the most courteous people I have ever met, and courtesy goes a long way in politics. Blair, for example, was a prolific writer of thank-you notes. Gove is also, as Martin notes, confident, ideological, and making a success of his department.
I do not agree with Martin’s advocacy of selection in state schools, but his exchanges with Gove about it were illuminating. Gove says of the Prime Minister:
He is a classic Tory, but also a radical meritocrat. But he doesn’t believe in academic selection. What he wants to see in state schools are the kinds of things that people pay money for — proper uniforms, classical subjects rigorously taught, and for teachers to be respected.
It is deft. Gove deflects the question of selection by saying, in the third person once removed, that Cameron doesn’t believe in it. Pressed further, Gove says:
As long as the coalition lasts I don’t think there is any room for manoeuvre. I don’t think the Liberal Democrats would countenance any form of selection. Selection is an incendiary subject in England. My view is that it’s better to avoid it because you can make much more progress in other areas. Selection is not a necessary condition of having a successful education system.
This is classy politics. I suspect that Gove agrees with the view, argued brilliantly by David Willetts when he was shadow education spokesman, that selection inhibits social mobility. But Willetts was nearly destroyed in a Tory civil war with the grammar-school mob when he made that argument explicit. So Gove chooses to be indirect, especially with an interviewer of the Graham “Grammar” Brady view.
That is what I call the cunning of leadership.
Gove also has humour on his side. He proposes this test of whether his schools policy will be judged a success:
I hope that thanks to the reforms we’ve introduced the next Guardian editor but three will be a comprehensive school boy or girl.
Against all that, there is Gove’s weakness. He is not a retail politician on television. But if he goes on doing a good job of government, that is the kind of perception that can be turned round, and his peculiarities of manner could become strengths of “a character”.
So, like the anonymous Conservative backbencher quoted by Martin, I hope Gove is lying when he says of the leadership:
No, I’m constitutionally incapable of it. There’s a special extra quality you need that is indefinable, and I know I don’t have it. There’s an equanimity, an impermeability and a courage that you need. There are some things in life you know it’s better not to try.
*There was a problem with his site’s server today. Bear with, as Miranda’s mother would say.
Photograph of Michael Gove reading A Book: Martin GodwinTagged in: academic selection, education, michael gove, public service reform
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