Mr Gove is either a cynical, bullying demagogue, or he is a frightening, extremist ideologue … or he is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
He showed it, today, in his article in the MailOnline.
He showed it, today, in his article in the MailOnline.
There is an iconic moment in the film Anne of the Thousand Days when Geneviève Bujold – hearing Henry’s list of her alleged lovers – exclaims: ‘Oh God help me, the King is mad’! The phrase, of course, is terminally anachronistic, but the impact is devastating; the audience, with Anne, loses any hope of appeal to reason, of justice … of success.
I felt similarly – it was the first phrase that came into my mind – when I read Michael Gove’s piece in the MailOnline today: I refuse to surrender to the Marxist teachers hell-bent on destroying our schools.
I cannot remember reading anything like it in a newspaper before – it represents a tirade of hysterical hyperbole unparalleled even in The Mail.
An Inappropriate Citation
Gove starts by referencing a 1938 book by Cyril Connolly, The Enemies of Promise. Actually, for Connolly, the ‘enemies of promise’ were journalism, politics and success – a list which surely, you think, might have made Gove think twice before he started writing. Much of Connolly’s book is spent describing his time at Eton – an education which, he writes, left him ‘dirty, inky, miserable, untidy, a bad fag, a coward at games, lazy at work, unpopular with my masters and superiors, anxious to curry favour and yet to bully whom I dared’. It is an unlikely opening for Mr Gove’s defence of the kind of education he wants to introduce.
Gove ignores this and warms to his task. ‘The new Enemies of Promise,’ he tells us, ‘are a set of politically motivated individuals who have been actively trying to prevent millions of our poorest children getting the education they need’.
Too many schools are failing their children, claims Gove, and he trots out a couple of schoolboy howlers, and suggests that children can pass GCSE Science nowadays merely by knowing whether grilled fish is healthier than battered sausages.
‘The greatest tragedy,’ he intones, ‘is that poor educational performance is concentrated in our most disadvantaged communities – places like … East Durham’.
It is at this moment that he crosses the line of sanity. Up till this point his argument has been trite and anecdotal. Suddenly, he tips over into the disturbed.
A Sulky Slur
'Disturbed?', you might query.
Yes indeed. The reference to East Durham was not fortuitous. Earlier this month, Mr Gove cited East Durham as a place where he could ‘smell the sense of defeatism’ in certain schools. There was an outcry – actually, East Durham schools have been doing very well recently. Gove was cornered by local MPs in the House of Commons, and forced to admit that he had never been to East Durham, and that his slur was based on a recollection of Lord Adonis from ten years ago of a teacher who had complained that there was no point in getting an education when there was no job at the end of it. Gove was humiliated. The reprimand obviously rankled.
So his mention of East Durham as a place of poor educational performance is not just a mis-statement – it is retribution. It is the petty revenge of someone who is 'miserable, a coward, and anxious to bully whom he dares'. Mr Gove seems to have learned well Cyril Connolly's lessons.
I think we can all agree that it is not merely despicable for a minister of the government to use a national newspaper as a vehicle to pursue a personal vendetta against the children of a community which bested him … it is disturbed.
Having thus tipped over into paranoia, Gove loses control: ‘Who is responsible for this failure!’ he screams.
Apparently, the people responsible for ruining our children’s education are – wait for it – a hundred academics who recently put a letter into The Times, criticising Mr Gove’s proposed National Curriculum.
Yes really. There follows a rant which you have to read to believe. These people – the modern ‘Enemies of Promise’ – get it both barrels. They want your children to be unable to spell or do fractions. They are Marxists and intellectuals. They are ‘the Blob’ (I do not exaggerate), a network of ideologically-driven education gurus dedicated to misleading teachers.
Read this for a fully-fledged conspiracy-paranoia:
In the past The Blob tended to operate by stealth, using its influence to control the quangos and committees which shaped policy. But The Blob has broken cover … because this Government is taking it on. We have abolished the quangos they controlled. We have given a majority of secondary schools academy status so they are free from the influence of The Blob’s allies in local government … but The Blob, in thrall to Sixties ideologies, wants to continue the devaluation of the exam system [and] teachers who see themselves as part of The Blob have enlisted as Enemies Of Promise. They are the ultra-militants in the unions who are threatening strikes…
It is an astonishing way to describe a group of academics who have done no more than put a letter in a newspaper disagreeing with you.
It is almost as astonishing as going on to describe Labour’s utterly wet, politically right-oriented, yes-man of an education spokesman, Stephen Twigg, as somebody who ‘chose to side with the Marxists’.
This is not sane talk. It is deeply disturbing. Mr Gove needs help. I do not say this in anger or mockery; I say it with genuine concern. Mr Gove sounds like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. This is content delivered in a manner utterly inappropriate to our conformist, politically-lethargic society. I am unaware of such an exploitation of conspiracy-paranoia since the McCarthy witch hunts.
Sieg oder Bolschewismus
There was recently a bit of a spat between History teachers and an Exam Board over a GCSE question which featured this poster:
It is a Nazi propaganda poster from the Second World War, and the slogan means: ‘Victory or Bolshevism’ – before you sign up to Mr Gove’s spectre of an education system encouraging failure and low standards, you might care to ask yourself if you would have been able to write anything about this poster, being asked in a GCSE exam to comment on its context, provenance, validity and historical utility.
Anyway, actually, the History teachers thought it was a little too hard; they thought it was unfair to ask pupils about Bolshevism when the unit the students had studied was actually about Nazi Germany. They moaned a bit; the Board disagreed, the question stood, and the row subsided.
What strikes me, however, is how similar are Mr Gove’s article and the visual content of this Nazi poster.
I realise that it is incongruous to be playing the Nazi card, having just castigated Mr Gove for playing the Marxist card.
But read his article. Notice the techniques – the appeal to popular hostility towards ‘intellectuals’; the parading of the dangers of Communism; the characterisation of one’s opponents as a faceless, quasi-alien force which is pervasive, sinister and stealthy; the repeated metaphors of the political debate as a ‘battle’, ‘fight’ and ‘struggle’ against ‘enemies’ (there are 8 references in the last 11 lines); the screaming hyperbole which ignores reason and argument, but appeals instead to deep-seated, guttural fears within the general psyche? These are techniques of propaganda taken straight from the Nazi manual.
Gove is not the first Education Minister to declare that ‘today we stand in a bitter struggle for existence against Bolshevism.’ Bernhard Rust, Nazi Education Minister, did so in the German newspaper Volkischer Beobachter, in February 1933.
A man on the edge
Nobody is saying that Mr Gove is a Nazi; I always advise people to stop reading as soon as they meet the 'Nazi' allegation. So I am not suggesting that the Tories want to introduce an education system which will inculcate racism, fascism or militarism. All that is wrong with Mr Gove’s proposals is that they are old-fashioned and unfit for purpose; any opportunity for open debate will see them easily discredited.
But – as Anne Boleyn in the film – I lost with Mr Gove’s article any hope of ever getting that opportunity to appeal to reason, to justice … of success.
Mr Gove is a man on the edge; somebody needs to tell him to take a holiday.
God help us, Mr Gove is mad.