Thursday, 26 December 2013

Michael Gove for Prime Minister

If I wanted to alienate myself from the landscape of the Edu Bloggers and Tweeters, a sure-fire way to do it would be to start extolling the merits of Michael Gove. If I spoke about his revolutionary ideas being good for children, for example, I would be roundly hounded. If I talk about how he has brought a fresh new angle in his relationships with the unions, I would be 'Othered' from the PedaTwitterati.

So let me make it clear that I am not a fan of Gove. I want it made clear from the offset that I find his policy agenda to be tub after tub of Potted Wank. I find his ideology to be backwards and Little-Britainy. I find his face unnerving, and he brings out the shivers of Govephobia in me that Frank Furedi has described.

But it must be noted that as politicians go - in terms of the 'dark arts' of rhetoric, debate, performance and impression management - Michael Gove is an absolute force of nature. His limp 'bullied-kid-in-the-cupboard' image and his polite well-spoken dealings combine to add to his strangely powerful position as a folk devil for our times.

Consider the opening gambit of his speech to parliament about the PISA results, delivered on 3rd December.

Before I go into the detail of what the league tables show about the common features of high-performing systems can I take a moment - as I try to in every public statement I make - to thank our teachers for their hard work, dedication and idealism.

 For somebody of Michael Gove's intellect and political acumen, it would be not only naive but collusive to think of Gove as the accidental victim of an overblown hate-phenomenon. His image is one that is carefully formed and he tends to our fury like one tends to a garden, with cautious well-timed cultivation. To my mind, every incendiary missive written by a bedraggled, degraded and fatigued teacher is money in the bank for Gove, who is building the requisite 'hard man' credentials for party leadership through his no-nonsense approach to state school educators and their imaged slovenliness.

Gove does not fit the mould of the political beast - I cannot picture him copulating, never mind cheating on a partner. Whereas Boris Johnson, the contender for future Tory leadership, has the rogueish bumbling masculinity of the aristocrat, Gove has the bony-wristed manhood of Walter from Dennis the Menace. His power comes from his relentless focus on rules and regulations, and on 'outing' those he sees as transgressors.

He is the kid who punches another kid while your back is turned, and whyo then has the knowhow to say exactly enough to make you doubt whether he did it. You won't believe he didn't do wrong, but he can persuade you enough that he always leaves a seed of doubt that prevents you from chastising him with full confidence.

He brings in performance-related-pay and begins making public statements about how brilliant some teachers are and about how crap others are. He doesn't make the dividing line completely explicit, but instead he lives that lingering shadow of a line in the minds of teachers, who begin sussing it out for themselves. That seed he plants leads you to compare yourself to those in your school - 'I do more than him' 'She doesn't do that much considering she's on the Upper Pay Scale' 'I should pull my weight more'. 

When this combines with his skill with words, crafted during his years working for The Times, we can see his ability to divide people and leave them to tussle while he pursues his own agenda. To look again at his PISA speech, there is this little extract.

Whatever conclusions we draw about what needs to change, I hope we in this house can agree that we are fortunate to have the best generation of young teachers ever in our schools.
With the inclusion of one word - young - Gove divides the entire teaching profession. With that one word used in what seems like a highly positive phrase, Gove leaves a raft of further questions.

  • What makes the current generation of young teachers the best?
  • What does this form of 'bestness' say about Gove's priorities?
  • What should be do to cultivate this new Ubermensch?
  • What is wrong with the old teachers that they deserve no mention?
In staffrooms, this manifests as the suspicion of those shiny new TeachFirsters with their Russell Group degrees - precisely the teachers who would most benefit from the wisdom of colleagues - and there is this unspoken dividing line between the jazzy favoured newbies and the fusty enemies of promise on the Upper Pay Scale.

He is one hell of a politician. On Question Time, a surefire way to get some excitement on the set is to invite WIll Self, who can put down any politician with his wisdom, cynicism, armoury of quotations and verbal mastery. He disposed of pretty much anybody with whom he disagreed, so I was pretty pumped up when he was to face up to Gove.

It looked like Gove was on the ropes when Will Self flagged up his 'dark artistry', and when he raised the contentious issue about Gove 'monstering' on Twitter using anonymous accounts and about the conduction of Government business on private - thuse not accountable - email addresses.

Gove destroyed Self.

In short then, I think that we ought not become so blinded by his panto-dame performance as Education Secretary, and we need to be careful not to play into his hands. There is a danger that if we continue to rise up against him in precisely the ways he anticipates, precisely when he is baiting us, we end up as powerless as the puppet staring up through its strings itno the eyes of puppetmaster.

Gove is unquestionably being a dick within education, and he actively chooses to ignore dissenting voices. I am going to research his moves a bit more, but I think I have one of his particular political strategies pinned down, which I am speculatively naming the Four-Step Stutter. If I have enough evidence for it I'll put it out there.

The idea of Michael Gove as Prime Minister is one we might need to get used to because in terms of the art of the politician, there is none equal to him.

He still looks like Pob though.

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