It’s easy to dismiss Michael Gove. (If only someone would.) So simple to call him names. But let’s not stoop to simplistic prejudice; let’s focus on what we know.
Here’s a man so toxic to voters he was cleverly hidden away by the Government, along with other repellant nasties like Iain Duncan Smith, Eric Pickles and Esther McVey, during the general election campaign. A man so reviled by educators of all stripes that he was quietly shunted away from his education brief ahead of his time as a branding exercise. That tells you something.
Here’s a man who has been accused of having a large ego. Is there any evidence we can find for that? Well, there’s the small matter of him having written a foreword to the Bible. Or writing parts of the curriculum on his own. There’s that.
How bright is Michael Gove? Some say he’s quite intelligent. But as an educator you learn about different types of intelligence: there are people, like Boris Johnson and Gove, who can be plausibly bright in a certain light when waffling on about the things they’ve read and studied, but who are, unshackled by the self-doubt that troubles so many critical thinkers, a total and utter catastrophe in terms of working with others, building relationships, reacting to situations or learning from mistakes. Arrogance isn’t smart. Not listening to others isn’t smart.
Pah, you might say, teachers, they’re always moaning. Leftie troublemakers, the lot of them. But Gove had a unique ability to unite small-c conservative teachers and the more militant elements in, not even quite hatred, but bemusement. People didn’t hate Gove; they just couldn’t fathom what on earth he was doing. What was he playing at this time? For what purpose? How was it supposed to benefit anyone, especially children? Was it really designed with that goal in mind, or simply a blunt instrument to correct a benighted view of educators from certain sections of the Right? Was it just a way of fluffing the Tory heartland that the damned teachers were being “dealt with” and parents being somehow “empowered”?
Look, I’m biased. I’m a teacher. Let’s get that out of the way. I’m not exactly an Enemy of Progress though. Change is needed in education sometimes, and everyone needs to constantly listen and learn from the best practice elsewhere in order to stay at the top of the profession. Unfortunately, the kind of change Michael G brought to education wasn’t any good. It’s not that I’m critical of reform, but critical of bad reform that doesn’t help. There’s a difference.
When a Times columnist, Gove called for the reintroduction of the death penalty and criticised the Stephen Lawrence inquiry (an inquiry which, as you’ll recall, has been entirely vindicated by subsequent events). So what? Maybe he was just a columnist, saying controversial things for money. We were all young once. We’ve all thought foolish things.
But then: what if he wasn’t grandstanding? What if he really meant what he said back then? If it is all true, he’s not just incompetent, but actively dangerous.
And so, freshly thawed from the carbonite he was placed into, he’s off to Justice. Working with the law. Legal people are tremendously decent folk, by and large, and they are open-minded. Perhaps he’ll be different this time. Perhaps he’ll have learned.
Or perhaps he won’t.