Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I tried to reach Michael Gove on Tuesday shortly after the news broke that he'd been moved to the Whips' Office. I'm quite relieved he never called back, because my intention was to offer my condolences, never a good idea when a friend suffers a setback. I know from experience that any expression of pity when some calamity befalls you only makes it ten times worse. 'Oh Christ,' you think. 'Is it really that bad?'

In Gove's case, I don't think it is. He achieved more in his four years as Education Secretary than his predecessors did in 40. Given the hostility of the education establishment to even the mildest of reforms, it's remarkable he lasted that long.

In truth, the antagonism of people like Christine Blower, the general secretary of the NUT, was never a problem for Gove. As Dominic Cummings, his former special adviser, has said more than once, opposition in Downing Street was always more of a problem than the opposition of the teaching unions.

It wasn't David Cameron that was the problem, so much as people like Nick Clegg and Edward Llewellyn whispering in his ear. They didn't like Gove's revolutionary rhetoric or his confrontational style and often found themselves being used as conduits for complaints from people he had upset -- junior Lib Dem ministers, for instance, or senior DfE officials.

I was never privy to private conversations between Gove and the Prime Minister, but always got the impression that he pretended to be exasperated with his troublesome Education Secretary, but in reality accepted that it was impossible for Gove to see through his reform programme without ruffling a few feathers. So long as Gove retained the support of Cameron, he was safe, regardless of how many letters education 'experts' wrote to the Guardian .

But the Prime Minister's patience clearly ran out. Gove picked too many fights. It's one thing upsetting the numerous individuals and groups with a vested interest in defending the status quo, but did he really have to antagonise Theresa May? If Spitting Image was still going, you can imagine a Gove puppet barrelling into the cabinet room, pint of lager in hand, and shouting 'What you staring at? …

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