One thing is certain: when Gove makes a speech – it’s not likely to be short. And it will be filled with familiar features: emotional appeals; clarion calls for change; flattery concealing hidden barbs. He launches a lengthy explanation why he, the reluctant leader, would nevertheless become prime minister if called upon to do so:
‘I did not want it, indeed I did almost everything not [to] be a candidate…I was so very reluctant…’
Gove has said this so many times, methinks he doth protest too much. And back in February 2013, Nick Cohen, wrote in the Guardian:
‘I hear that an alarmed David Cameron can see that Gove is preparing a leadership bid…’
Cohen was describing Gove’s Department of Education ‘attack dogs’. Was Cohen exaggerating? Not according to David Laws, former schools minister, who describes the DfE under Gove as a maverick department, out-of-control, ruled by a man who wanted his own way.
Gove’s speech, full of rhetorical devices (patterns of three, repetition, high-sounding phrases), explains why he is the man to lead Britain out of the EU:
‘I’m the candidate for leader who changed our education system.’
He did indeed. Using a mixture of misleading information, sneering at opposition and cherry picking ‘evidence’, he rammed through education reforms at breakneck speed. English education is now dealing with the wreckage: the promised freedom is proving elusive to academies in chains; the exam system is in a mess having been introduced irresponsibly without trialling or evaluation; teacher training (unnecessary, in any case, according to Gove) is in disarray; and school place supply hasn’t kept pace with need.
Gove makes several promises. These include:
1 Spending £100m a week on the NHS (but wasn’t that supposed to be £350m divided between the NHS and other public services?).
2 Further reform in ‘our education system’ (it’s unclear how he will manage British-wide education reform – the UK PM has no control of education policy outside England).
3 Changing a system where the ‘wealthiest’ exploit the tax system to avoid paying taxes. (That’s something which would be worth changing. But, as Private Eye asked on 10 June: did Gove think of this while he was holidaying in premises owned by his friend Viscount Rothermere, whose ownership of the Daily Mail is via a Bermuda-registered company and who also uses offshore firms for UK properties?).
He claims he has the qualities to lead Britain out of Europe. But Gove has proved himself to be divisive, unwilling to compromise and now, it would appear, treacherous. His tendency to call those who disagree with him ‘Marxists’, ‘Enemies of promises’ and ‘Nazis’ does not suggest a man who can build bridges despite the emollient tone of his carefully-crafted speech.
Yesterday, someone suggested Michael Gove was having a Henry V moment*. A cynic might say it was more like Richard III.
*I can’t find this reference. If anyone can provide a link in comments below, I’d be grateful.
ADDENDUM: 4 July 09.15. Although I described the three items above as promises, only one, giving an extra £100m per week to the NHS, was actually a promise. The other two were what Gove said needed to be done, not what he would do. His speech is full of what he thinks needs to be done but he's actually committed himself to just four things: taking the UK out of the EU (who would have thought it?, an extra £100m per week for the NHS, ending free movement by introducing an Australian-style points system and cutting VAT on domestic fuel.