Don’t patronise the public, former education secretary Gove lectures PM

Janet Downs's picture

Former Education Secretary, Chief Whip and Justice Secretary Michael Gove appears to have a lot of time on his hands since he was relegated to the back benches if judged by the number of Times’ articles he has written lately.

Today’s offering (behind paywall) tells the Prime Minister what she ‘must’ do.  Gove claims he’s seen a speech which Theresa May will make shortly about Brexit.  In Uriah Heep mode he claims ‘It’s so much better written than anything I can produce’ before dismissing the speech with a familiar Gove trope: short sentences in a pattern of three.

‘Today I’m going to be blunt.  And brief.  Because I believe in getting on with the job, not wasting words.’

Those of us who’ve ploughed through interminable Gove speeches during his tenure as Education Secretary will breathe a sigh of relief at this appeal to brevity. 

The gist of his article is that the public are demanding ‘plain speaking after years of being patronised.’

So did Gove speak plainly when he ran the Department for Education?   The answer is Yes.  But it was misleading, disingenuous and divisive.   Gove made it plain those who agreed with him were bathed in light while those who didn’t came from the dark side.  His use of ‘evidence’ was slippery.  According to Coalition partner David Laws, the DfE under Gove was a ‘maverick’ department.

Gove portrayed himself as saviour of a failed state education system.  He described heads who publicly supported him as ‘Magnificent Seven’ and ‘Crusaders for social justice’.  Many were awarded with gongs.  Unfortunately, several much-praised academy trusts (Durand, Cuckoo Hall, Barnfield Federation, Perry Beeches) have been sent Financial Notices to Improve.  One of Gove’s ‘crusaders’, Sajid Raza, is serving five years for fraud.  This casts doubt on Gove’s judgement.

And Gove was not above patronising the public.  He used dodgy surveys to uphold his claim that teenagers were so ignorant of British history that only his reforms could turn round this dire situation. 

He’s still doing it.  In today’s article he writes about the ‘common sense of the majority’.  Leave aside the fact that it was only small majority who voted to leave, it is patronizing to soft-soap Leavers by telling them they have the monopoly of ‘common sense’.  They don’t.  Neither do Remainers.   Common sense may be the wisdom of crowds but it may also be deceptive.  An appeal to common sense by a clever politician is a way of deflecting valid but opposing arguments.   And it’s not just patronizing to say, as Gove does, that negotiating new trade deals with the EU is ‘simplicity itself’, it’s foolish. 

It’s important to remember that Gove is foremost a journalist.  He’s capable of writing elegantly when he isn’t tub-thumping (his book reviews are always thoughtful and erudite).  But today’s journalism is tomorrow’s recycling.  Journalists don’t have to bother about the long-term effects of their words.  But politicians do.   Gove’s DfE legacy is an education system in England which reveres test results over the broad, balanced education it should be and which values what can be counted instead of what counts.





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