Sunday, 3 July 2016

Gove: Machiavelli, Or Our Last Hope?

by Will Dry

The instability caused by Cameron’s resignation, and Labour’s ever growing crisis, is a prescient reminder of not just what can happen to the Conservative party, but what will happen to the Conservative party. There will come a time when all looks lost, when the party is a redundant irrelevance, when a ‘Corbyn’ is essentially occurring. Upon acknowledging this, we should study our cousins, New Labour, a force which dominated, before being dumped by the country, and then by the Labour membership. Despite their three electoral victories, it is hard to argue that New Labour fundamentally changed Britain. It governed for and between elections, rather than for future generations. Blairites cling on to the implementation of the minimum wage, devolving power to the home countries, and giving fathers 2 weeks maternity pay, in defending the case that they existed, or actually did some governing, rather than in proposing the case that they overhauled Britain. Blair ran Britain like one rents a holiday home - repositioning a cushion, or even a sofa, but never repainting the walls.

If one bears in mind our own impermanence, and the regrets of the Blairites, Portillo’s rant on This Week grows in relevance: “After 23 years of careful thought about what they would like to do in power, the answer is nothing. There is nothing they want to do with office or power. … The government has nothing to do, nothing to say and thinks nothing.” There is one candidate standing for the leadership who has earned himself an exemption to this critique: Michael Gove. It took him just 77 days to push through legislation reforming schools following the 2010 general election. The Civil Service warned him that it would take up to five years to establish the first free school in Britain, but by September 2011, 20 were already open, with 100 open in 2012 – and planned legislation by his successor for every school to become an academy. Gove broke the dead hand of local authorities controlling schools, and unleashed parent and teacher power – while constantly being opposed by vested interests. It was no surprise that the reform of prisons became the centre stage of the Queen’s Speech this year, nor was it that the program was the largest overhaul of prison’s since Victorian times. The boldness to reform, and disrespect for the undeserving establishment, is what makes Gove an ideal Prime Minister.

I have no fear that Theresa would prove inadequate as a Prime Minister. Her contribution to the party and the country is almost unblemished, and her experience and record makes her more than qualified for the job. However, there would be no vision. I fear we would be left scratching our heads in ten years time wondering, “Why did we not change this when we had the chance?”. Gove often spoke of education enabling children to “write their own life stories.” Free from the undemocratic constraints of the EU, it is now possible for Britain to write its own life story. Gove has a Tolkien-sized imagination, which is needed more than ever to get the best out of our new political levers. Armed with such political capital, Gove can write a new chapter for Britain, as opposed to May being a footnote in Cameron’s. Gove’s chapter is one where Conservatives are as opposed to the undeserving super-capitalists as they are in favour of harnessing the state to undergo research and development. A chapter where the major problems: undersupply of housing, underfunding of the NHS, pensions, will be confronted, not by insipid politicians concerned about the next election, but by people who, as Gove stated today, “will not take no for an answer”. Gove can redefine the party, and more importantly, the country.

Despite this, there is clear anguish in the membership and MPs at how Gove established his leadership campaign. All the charming affirmations that he was not the best person for the job, which had endeared him to so many, suddenly stung – like we ourselves had been played. The leaked email, the tweet which never was, the apparent lack of communication to Boris - it all sounds offputtingly Machiavellian. Perhaps he is. But I, any many other party members, do not buy it. This is a man who quietly accepted Cameron’s demotion with his natural good grace, and has never once confessed to resenting Cameron’s team spinning him as a ‘toxic’ figure to the papers the next day. Throughout the referendum campaign, he refrained from personally attacking any high ranking Tory - even calling Osborne a ‘fantastic chancellor’, days after the Emergency (b)Fudget. He naturally accepted his place as Boris’ right hand man - there was no Granita moment. He truly believed that Boris had the focus and energy required to make the most of the opportunities Brexit had created. Now, aside a few members of aides, and the protagonists themselves, nobody can be absolutely certain what occurred in the days before Gove left the campaign. However, we do know that Boris was hasty to pull out - the tears of Nadine Dorries, and dropped jaw of Nadhim Zahawi, show that. Perhaps he withdrew so easily because he recognised that the talents which make him so unique, make him ineffective at Westminster politics. It is not hard to agree with Gove’s conclusion that someone who was too lazy to meet 50 Remainer MPs, who forgot to give a personal note offering the Chancellorship to Leadsom, and forgot to send a tweet announcing unity between himself, Gove and Leadsom, is not up to the much more complex task of governing.

Still, you say, Gove could have switched to Leadsom? Perhaps, but Gove is both a more experienced reformer, and a different candidate to Leadsom. While Andrea is positioning herself as a good dealmaker for Britain, her message currently sounds like the other aspects of statecraft will become a neglected chore - a piece of homework in a subject which a university hasn’t offered her on. Gove is one of the few politicians who has the appetite for reform to tackle both Brexit, Britain’s place in the world, and purge the intolerable excesses of capitalism and their purveyors. Yet, he now faces many party members calling for his castration and a media that is naturally lapping up his ‘betrayal’. But as the choice between moving a pillow and renovating the house becomes clear, one would be a fool to write Gove off so early.


  1. Very persuasive article, Will. I agree Gove should never be underestimated. However, it is difficult to see how he can turn things around this time. We'll see. I suspect May's lack of vision is part of her appeal in these febrile, divisive times. However, if the leadership race gets as far as the members (which I think it has to; I can't see them just accepting May's coronation by MPs), then Andrea Leadsom has a very good chance indeed: Brexiter, more sense of vision than May, less off-putting than Gove, and it probably doesn't hurt (where party members are concerned) that she looks a little like Margaret Thatcher.

  2. Thanks sir, really chuffed that you like my work :D


Comments with names are more likely to be published.