Michael Gove's close links to Rupert Murdoch revealed

Feb 27, 2012
Linda Palermo

As media tycoon looks to education as a revenue earner, Education Secretary's ties comes under scrutiny

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THE GUARDIAN'S veteran investigative journalist David Leigh has revealed today Education Secretary Michael Gove's extensive links to News International boss Rupert Murdoch, whose close relations with senior Conservatives many in the party would prefer to forget after the phone-hacking saga.

Leigh's focus is not on the much-trumpeted launch of the Sun on Sunday – a bit of a damp squib, according to many media observers, though Murdoch is claiming 3m sales – but on the media mogul's wish to muscle in on the potentially lucrative world of education services.

The Guardian report shows how Murdoch has been stealthily moving into the education business in the US, where he hired New York lawyer Joel Klein in the summer of 2010 at the cost of $2m a year to launch a "revolutionary, and profitable, education division" for News Corp.

Murdoch subsequently bought an educational technology firm called Wireless Generation for $360m, which would be used to bring News Corp's extensive media content into schools. As Murdoch himself noted, education is a "$500bn sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs".

The tycoon brought this new-found enthusiasm for education to the UK, telling the audience for his 2010 Margaret Thatcher lecture that the UK's education system needed reform because "in the last decades... most of the English-speaking world has spent more and more on education with worse and worse results".

According to the Guardian, Gove has met Klein and Murdoch on many occasions since he became Education Secretary in May 2010, and accompanied former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks on a November 2010 trip to a site in east London, near Murdoch's Wapping HQ, where the mogul planned to build an academy school. That was put on hold in the light of the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World, but Leigh maintains that "Gove would be a key figure in any attempt [by Murdoch] to penetrate the British schools market".

The closeness between the 80-year-old billionaire and Gove is part of the Guardian story. The Education Secretary is a former Murdoch employee: before he entered politics he worked as a leader writer and assistant editor at The Times, where his wife Sarah Vine is still employed as a writer, and was known for writing enthusiastic pieces about the boss, describing him on one occasion as "the greatest godfather of mischief in print" who possesses "18th-century pamphleteering vigour".

Leigh's report potentially represents further unwelcome press for the 44-year-old MP, who despite receiving near-unanimous praise in the Tory press for his education reforms, has been the subject of a tenacious investigation by the Financial Times into his use of private emails to conduct government business, in an alleged bid to avoid Freedom of Information inquiries.

Neither Gove nor Murdoch have made any effort to hide their mutual admiration. Last week, in the run-up to the Sun on Sunday launch, Murdoch tweeted about Gove's "admirable character" and "great work, while his former charge publicly attacked the Leveson inquiry into newspaper ethics as a threat to press freedom and said: "Whenever anyone sets up a new newspaper – as Rupert Murdoch has with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised."

Labour MPs are unlikely to miss the opportunity to lace together two of the biggest betes noires of the current right-wing landscape. Tom Watson has already been enthusiastically spreading the Guardian story on Twitter since it was published last night.

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We had better keep an eye on Gove another political plant by a wealthy businessman