James Forsyth: If the Tories Win the Election, the Gove Gamble Will Have Paid Off

By Forsyth, James | The Spectator, July 19, 2014 | Go to article overview

James Forsyth: If the Tories Win the Election, the Gove Gamble Will Have Paid Off


Forsyth, James, The Spectator


'There's no shame in a cabinet to win the next election,' declared an exasperated senior No. 10 figure on Tuesday night. This week's reshuffle was not one for the purists: it was designed with campaigning, not governing, in mind. With less than ten months to go to polling day, politics trumps policy. This is why Michael Gove is moving from the Department for Education to become Chief Whip. The test of this shake-up will be whether the Tories win the next election or not.

This reshuffle demonstrated that Tory modernisation is not about measures anymore but men -- and women. The party has spent most of David Cameron's leadership trying to draw up policies to show it understands modern Britain and that it is not just the political wing of the privileged few. These efforts have had some success, but not enough. It still trails Labour by double digits  on the issue of fairness and who is 'on the side of people like me'.

This gap helps to explain the reshuffle's emphasis on promoting those who don't look like typical Tories -- hence the promotions for women and those with working-class backgrounds. As one senior source said after the reshuffle, 'The agenda stays the same but the government looks much more like the people we want to vote for it.'

The biggest surprise of this reshuffle was Gove's new job. For years his education reform agenda has been central to the Cameron project. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have often lavished praise on him, but Gove has now been shuffled out.

No. 10 is at pains to argue that this isn't a demotion, that Gove will have huge influence as Chief Whip. They are equally quick to stress that the Gove agenda will continue. They say that the new Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has been given clear orders not to let up on reform. They argue that if they were going to retreat they wouldn't have sent Nick Gibb, one of the architects of this agenda, back to the department along with Gove's dear friend and intellectual ally Nick Boles.

But how Gove was moved sheds some light on what is really happening. Cameron has been mulling this change since late last year. I understand that Gove has been aware for some time that he would be shuffled in this way, but it took a lot of time and persuasion to make him accept the move. But the Prime Minister insisted: he wanted to demonstrate to his party and the country his willingness to sacrifice even his closest friends to the electorate.

Gove's reluctance to move was understandable. He has always been a subscriber to the Steve Hilton view that the Tories should govern as if they had only one term to enact all the changes they want. But his departure from the Department for Education means that he misses out on eight months in which he could have consolidated his reforms.

Those close to him justify the shift on the grounds that the best way to embed his reforms is for the Tories to win the next election. They argue that if Gove going to Downing Street makes that more likely, then it is worth doing.

Quite what role Gove will play at the centre remains to be seen. …

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