Michael Gove row: are his critics under-estimating him?
Write out 100 times: for every parent who dislikes his Thatcherite tone, there’s another who agrees about the Three Rs
THE row over Michael Gove's sacking of the Labour peer Sally Morgan as the head of Ofsted, the schools standards watchdog, is overshadowing today’s launch of his "education week".
Sir David Bell, his former permanent secretary who is now vice chancellor of Reading university, entered the fray today by warning Gove against surrounding himself with “yes men”.
In an article posted here, Bell mocks Gove's criticism of ‘The Blob’ – the Tory Education Secretary’s dismissive description of the educational establishment.
"The [row over Ofsted] shows the importance of retaining, and being seen to retain, independent voices near the top - not simply 'yes men'," Bell writes. "There is a far wider group of non-Blobberati voices across the schools sector, higher education, industry and the voluntary sector, who offer an intelligent critique of where we are now."
David Laws, the Lib Dem schools minister, has also let it be known through "aides" that he is "absolutely furious at the blatant attempts by the Tories to politicise Ofsted". Laws has so far said nothing himself in public, but his outrage was reinforced on the Radio 4’s Today programme by David Ward, a Lib Dem member of the education select committee, who called for Gove to be replaced as Education Secretary.
On the face of it, with Baroness Morgan’s imminent departure from Ofsted leading the news, and awkward questions being asked about who will replace her, Gove could not have picked a worse time to launch a series of initiatives on education.
And why, some are asking, did he appoint her in the first place, given that she was Tony Blair's political adviser at Number Ten?
Gove said yesterday on the Andrew Marr Show that she had been doing a "superlative" job. The question was immediately asked by his critics - and there are many - if she was so good, then why are you firing her?
Yet Gove is completely unapologetic about replacing Baroness Morgan as the head of Ofsted, and he appears to be unaffected by the row or its impact on his plans for education. If anything, Gove feels that the row will play in his favour because it has got people talking about education, not the economy for a change.
Gove, a former Times journalist, is a traditionalist on schooling and proud of it. Over the weekend, he successfully got classroom discipline raised as an issue, calling for pupils to be ordered to “write lines” again. Today he will say he wants to tear down the ‘Berlin Wall’ separating private and state schools.
Ironically, Baroness Morgan - as a Blairite - was in favour of the Blairite academies that Gove is championing and that were viewed sceptically (like free schools) by some in the Miliband camp.
It is possible the Morgan row was manufactured by Labour to sabotage Gove's ‘education week’. Polling evidence suggests that Gove - who comes across as ultra-bright but a Thatcherite - is a turn-off for middle-of-the-road voters and any row with him at the centre is a plus for Labour.
But his critics risk underestimating Gove, who attended a fee-paying school but was brought up as an adopted child in a Labour family in Aberdeen. He is clearly a man with a mission, and a row over the chair of Ofsted may suit him just fine. And if it involves annoying the Lib Dems, who he loathes having to share power with in coalition, then so much the better.
Furthermore, for every middle-class parent who might not like his Thatcherite tone, there’s another who agrees with him about a return to the Three Rs.
Most important, to borrow from Tony Blair, it all gets people talking about "education, education, education".