The School Doctor: The Moral Collapse of Michael Gove?

In the latest column for Schools Improvement, The School Doctor gives his thoughts of Michael Grove.

I have a confession to make: when Michael Gove became Secretary of State for Education in 2010, I was not one of those teachers who slow-handclapped or heckled him. While I didn’t agree with all (or many) of his ideas, I thought that in a mature democracy, we ought respectfully to hear what he had to say, before respectfully disagreeing with it. Changes in government and secretaries of state are meant to augur changes in policy (though we hope that change will be sensible and sensibly-paced), and by the quirks of the British electoral system, Gove had found himself in a position where he was meant to have ideas. I even occasionally felt sympathy for him when his proposed policies were wilfully misread and misrepresented in Twitter storms. Occasionally.

Like most teachers, I shed few tears when his tenure as Secretary of State for Education came to an end. I disagreed with him on a number of policies after that point. Then I had little interest in his clumsily Machiavellian self-immolation over Boris Johnson’s bid to become Prime Minister (though I suspect that, for both men, that little spat was but part of a much longer game plan). As far as I was concerned, he had been hung out to dry, and he could hang there drying.

That was until Tuesday 17 January 2017 and Gove’s Times2 starry-eyed piece titled ‘My Audience with The Donald’. Gurning thumbs-up with the manchild in question, in front of a gold-framed Playboy front cover, Gove allowed the ethical turpitude of his interviewee to pollute his own moral view of the world. Let’s be charitable to Gove for a moment, and suggest that he was giddied by his proximity to power or his interviewee’s disingenuous ability to disarm his victims through gaudy gold-plated bluster.

‘Some of his past comments are clearly unacceptable, while some of his policy positions are, to me, indefensible’, Gove rightly concedes. ‘But’, he says, ‘I think it’s appropriate to try to look in a clear-eyed way at what we might be in for’. The alarming thing is that Gove was anything but clear-eyed and the following quotations are deeply worrying from a man who once had the education of future generations in his purview:

In his conversation with us he was at pains to be gracious and generous.’

The Trump we met was much more inclined to conciliate than confront.’

[He] operates in a much more nuanced fashion than his torrent of verbiage would lead many to believe.’

There are manifold counter-examples to render redundant this allegedly (marginally) more civilised one-off encounter. Here’s the worst of the lot:

I know he has been vulgar, sexist, grasping and divisive. But I also appreciate how tired America is of an arid war of position in which different politicians proclaim their superior virtue without providing evidence of how they have transformed lives for the better’.

Michael Gove, the man who once had the educational futures of millions of children under his control, through the use of one ‘But’, glides over the fact that the man he is discussing: boasts about sexual assault, rides roughshod over political and financial ethics, shouts down anyone with whom he disagrees, encourages violence against political enemies, denigrates good people who have fought ethical causes, licenses widespread racism through his own hateful rhetoric, and subordinates verifiable facts to his own bilious gut-feeling.

I know that Gove-as-journalist is trying to strike some kind of balance, but that balance tilts wildly when the crimes of his interlocutor are so manifold. It is worth repeating: Michael Gove was so blinded by the meretricious and the bombastic, that he rhetorically downplayed the ethical crimes of a man who boasted about sexual violence.

Mr Gove, some recordings of your interviewee are not suitable to be played in the schools over which you once had control. Does that not make you stop and think about palliating his behaviour?

The School Doctor is a practising teacher at a UK school, using a pseudonym to allow more freedom in his/her regular columns for Schools Improvement.

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  1. Janet Downs

    I would go further: Gove was always seduced by power especially when he had it. David Laws’ book ‘Coalition’ describes the DfE under Gove as being out-of-control. During his tenure, Gove misled the electorate, painted his opponents as ‘enemies of promise’, ‘Marxists’ however well-argued their opposition and was constantly lauded by most of the media who churned his lies. He briefed against May during the Trojan Horse affair. He praised heads who supported him – rewarding many with gongs – but many of these lauded heads have since had Financial Notices to Improve slapped on their academy trusts (eg Sir Greg Martin, Sir Peter Birkett, Patricia Sowter CBE, Liam Nolan). One is even in prison for fraud (Sajid Raza). He always said he wasn’t worthy of being a leader (such false modesty) but his behaviour towards Boris and his wife’s Lady Macbeth email showed that was ambition all along (Laws writes about a possible Gove coup during the Coalition years).
    That ‘But’ shows Gove is capable of brushing aside unacceptable behaviour if it’s expedient to do so. And he’s not above giving ‘advice’ to the PM if he thinks it will show him on the side of ‘common sense’ – anything which will put him in a favourable position.

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