Monday, July 19, 2010

The most dangerous man in the Cabinet?

No, not George Osborne, although he certainly has huge destructive potential, but the Education Secretary, Michael Gove. He is dangerous because he seems to have an unshakeable belief in his cause and identifies himself with that cause so much that anyone who dares question him or challenge the thinking isn't querying the policy, but actually attacking him personally. His bad-tempered performance on the Today programme, where he was very aggressive with Sarah Montagu in particular and the BBC in general. He talked over her and when pushed to actually answer questions that he tried to ignore, he consistently conflated the BBC and the Labour Party. Partly, this is reversion to type, because the Tories are convinced that the BBC is packed to the rafters with lefty agitators and is out to destroy the advance of government (although Labour spin doctors often found it less helpful than that simplistic picture would suggest).

All of this arose because Gove proposes to ram the complexity of the Academy Bill through parliament in just over a week to get it into law before the summer recess. This is such a far-reaching change that you would expect a proper parliamentary process to scrutinise the bill, but Gove seems to sincerely believe that the Tory manifesto commitment was sufficient opportunity to review the detail of the changes. This isn't the first time that we've seen Gove become bull-headed, as he is known to have ignored the advice of the Partnership for Schools agency experts to delay announcing a list of Building Schools for the Future cancellations until all the details could be confirmed. On that occasion, that merely caused confusion and distress - this legislation has the power to do immense damage to our schools and to impose huge costs if it goes wrong. Doesn't that deserve proper review and scrutiny?

He seems unprepared to listen to those around him and this does not bode well for the future, as it is likely to lead to an advisory team packed with yes men and to ensure that Gove only seeks advice from those who are most likely to agree with him. To a degree, of course, this is the fate of many ministers in many governments, but for such a newly-minted secretary of state with such an immediate record of fallibility behind him, it is deeply disturbing. Dogmatism may provide for consistency in opposition and status comes from being an ideological true believer, but it is very dangerous in government, where you can turn words into actions and cant into consequence.

No comments: