May 2013 saw Michael Gove's third year in office. It may also mark the point when his political credibility began to peak. Not because of our activities, but because he started to act in public like a politician outside the circle of even the current right wing Tory Party.
The tactics used by Gove of denigrating and marginalizing any critics have worked well for him, and the success of describing the 100 professors who criticized the national curriculum in March was considerable. In the Mail he described them as "the Blob", ie a group of Marxists who "sat on committees that drafted politically correct curricula (and) drew gifted teachers away from their vocation". This was popular in the media, as it fitted the dominant Black Paper ideology now established as unquestionable.
Then Gove walked into heavy fire at the National Asssociation of Head Teachers conference. In fact not just heckling, but a 99.3% vote of no confidence. As the NAHT are not a bunch of Marxist subversives and Gove was so shocked that he said he was "always happy to debate, discuss and engage with the profession", which could have been a turning point" (Mail report 18th May).
However the tiger could not lose his stripes. Back in the office the Manichean simplicity of Me Good, All Those Others Bad returned and by May 20th Gove published a piece in the Times criticized the President of the NAHT for making "a direct attack on the principle of setting higher expectations". Even on the report in the Daily Mail, it was clear this was nothing like what she had said.
However more pertinent was the fact that a week earlier Gove became the first minister to argue for leaving Europe. Not a surprise, Nigel Farange last December described Gove as the man UKIP could work with. But at a time when Cameron was rocking, not what the Tories wanted. If Gove was not putting himself forward as the man to broker a UKIP-Tory deal - and he is too smart to give any such hint - he certainly made himself clearly opposed to the policy of his Prime Minister, with little Englander views that Historians had already noted in the National Curriculum.
This led to an article in the Times - the Gove paper par excellence - on May 5th which was sub headed "the Education Secretary's radicalism knows no bounds, unlike his political ambition". I can't agree with the last clause. But Tim Montgomerie, the writer, was trying to argue Gove did not pose a threat to Cameron. However, he had to admit Gove was a loose cannon. Montgomerie argued 3 groups are now opposed to Gove - The Blob, now extended to cover more than just professors, but also 'thoroughly reasonable members of the teaching profession" - the NAHT perhaps? - and intriguingly people who did not like the centralization of an allegedly decentralizing education ministry.
Much to think about here, for the last two groups do exist, not that they read LSN. But the real issue to note is that Cameron and Osborne now see Gove as a threat, indeed, Montgomerie alleged "they see Mr Gove as too radical on public service reform and too cosy with elements of the right wing press". FOr once I agree with Number 10. Gove is going well beyond even Osborne in slashing the DFE, while the swivel eyed loony press love Gove to distraction. When the Prime Minister and the Chancellor see Gove as too radical, we should all worry.
When the paper Gove used to work for, and his wife still works for, sees Gove as a loose cannon pursuing his own agenda, it is a sign the climate is changing. Not that Gove is going or the Black Paper ideology does not still rule the Westminster consensus. It is still business as usual. But while he will continue to rampage and hurl insults at critics as usual, he is becoming non persona grata beyond the usual suspects like LSN and the SEA. His own party leaders are starting to think he is too dangerous.
Trevor Fisher 6th June 2013