i Editor's Letter: Do we really want conviction politicians?


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The Independent Online


The day after the “drown your sorrows” Budget, i’s mailbox was full – not as expected in response to the Chancellor – but because Simon Kelner had the temerity to support some of Michael Gove’s “learning by rote” suggestions so damned by the 100 academics who had written in to our sister paper, The Independent.

It is not the first time Gove has drawn such a response. In fact, every time he introduces an idea he meets with a stunning level of vituperative response. He elicits more abuse, even among you reasonable and fair-minded i readers than virtually any other figure, well, at least other politicians. His chief current rivals for this unwelcome crown of thorns are George Osborne and Nick Clegg.  Of course, there’s the Prime Minister, but he’s bound to get more abuse – it goes with the job. That said, as a pre-Budget poll showed this week, it is Osborne’s unpopularity that gets in the way of his policies, more than most.

Gove may, unfortunately, suffer due to prejudice about his geeky appearance, but also – as with Osborne – there is an aversion to his apparent arrogance. It was there on this week’s BBC Question Time, when having just insisted that he takes all questions seriously, his response to the next one was a dismissive “yadda, yadda!”. 

But I wonder… Gove and Osborne are among the conviction politicians of the Government. We think we want conviction politicians, but then we crucify those who stick to their guns: Thatcher, Livingstone and Blair (over Iraq, at least). The trouble with convictions is that they’re great as long as we share them. There is not (yet) this depth of aversion towards Ed Miliband or Theresa May. We don’t know enough about them. Nick Clegg? Well, he’s pilloried for (allegedly) not having convictions, but that’s another column.