Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Michael Gove, political sensation?

It doesn't take much to send the Conservative Party scurrying for new leadership, and the last few months have been bad enough for David Cameron's Coalition government that the blue side of politics is hunting high and low for someone to lead them if the worst comes to the worst.

This week they've alighted on the Education Secretary, Michael Gove (above), popular among Conservatives for his zeal in creating Free Schools and Academies as fast as he possibly can.

So is his candidacy a real runner? Answer: probably not. I don't think this one's a goer. Not really.

Ignore the rather cheap point that his awkward manner and studious appearance might put off a political audience raised on television and Tony Blair. Place to one side his personal and ideological links to the Murdoch empire - unlikely to hurt him in the eyes of much of the press, which the powerful Australian-American still ultimately owns and orchestrates.

No - his problem is one of style - his political style, as much as anything else. He has prospered as an 'intellectual' in a House of Commons mostly consisting of intellectual pygmies, as if reading some books and spouting the names of some populist idea-mongers marks him out as some sort of Einstein. His rumbustious recent attack on Ed Miliband, the Leader of the Opposition, cheered up some Conservatives no end. But it was actually a set of tongue-in-cheek jibes and obvious political stategems - such as trying to drive a wedge between Shadow Chancellor and Labour leader. Most of its rather silly posturing could be dismissed for what it was: a kind of hacksmith verbal origami, as far removed from real governance, and the real clash of ideals, as is possible this side of Lembit Opik.

Then there's the way he's run his own department - a far from happy ship, where accusations of aggressive bullying and hectoring have flown thick and fast. And to what ends? Endless rows with everyone who isn't a Conservative. The creation of an absurd, reductive, busybody new National Curriculum that no-one really likes. In the case of our new History 'courses', even Simon Schama - no left-wing firebrand, and one of the few historians with the ability to cut through to a wider public - has derided the Education Secretary's ideas as sterile, outdated, boring and plain old daft. Not only that: early drafts have been full of inaccuracies, mistakes and misrepresentations aplenty. Not content with basically saying to teachers what a jolly old place the British Empire really was (I'm exaggerating for effect here), rote learning, names, dates and 'facts' are back. Fancy that for your children? No, I thought not.

It's all rather depressing. Mr Gove gives every impression of being an efficient, effective, driven and highly capable Secretary of State. Were he to throttle back on the jibes, the swivel-eyed ideological craziness and the insistence that blazers-and-Latin is a coherent education agenda for the twenty first century, he might well be in the running for No. 10.

But his chances are still low right now. Remember that most Conservative leaders emerge from pretty much nowhere - especially when the party is in office. Winston Churchill? Alec Douglas-Home? John Major? No-one thought that they would be Prime Minister until just a few months before their accession. Only Anthony Eden was the prince who inherited the throne - and he had to wait for nearly a decade.

So: will Mr Gove make it to the top of the greasy pole as things stand right now? Answer: no.

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