This time last week our Political Editor, Andy Grice, broke the story that has dominated Westminster ever since, and rumbles remorselessly on. Michael Gove would not be re-appointing Baroness Morgan as head of Ofsted, the schools inspectorate. Many Sunday newspapers led with the row that erupted as a result and, as we report today, there is no sign of an end to hostilities. Before explaining why I think this is such a significant story, a word of explanation about last week’s edition.
Some of you will have seen two versions of the front page online. Both had the same picture – a still image from the extraordinary interview that Amanda Knox gave to US television stations after the reinstatement of guilty verdicts for her and Raffaele Sollecito for the murder of British student Meredith Kercher. The story beneath it had the headline: “Gove wields the knife”. It was long after I’d left the office that the duty editor called to alert me to this dreadful juxtaposition. The metaphor of knife-wielding was rather inappropriate, he said, given that Knox – who was pictured above – was accused of stabbing Ms Kercher in the neck with a knife. And he was right.
This version of the front page circulated in social media, because we release it online long before it hits the printers. Luckily, our night editor and subs spotted it before either the first or second edition of your newspaper was printed, and we changed the headline to “Gove sacks Ofsted chief”. Suffice to say, had the first version made it into print, I would have had some rather harder explaining to do. Journalism is full of near-misses like this, and it is remarkable, frankly, that we don’t commit more heinous errors. Phew!
Such an error would have detracted from an excellent scoop. The significance of the row over Morgan, which Grice explores in his column this weekend, is that it signals the beginning of the end for the Coalition Government.
Of course, Parliament will continue functioning. But something fundamental changed this week. Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said that the Conservatives would only reduce the top rate of tax to 40p over his dead body. In an exclusive interview with Grice, David Laws, who competes with Alexander as the Liberal Democrat most trusted and respected by Conservatives, openly condemned Michael Gove, his boss and reforming ally in education.
A period of huge tension within government is upon us. British politics has rarely been so unpredictable. The economy is recovering, boosting Tory hopes – but the electoral calculus is stacked against them. The Prime Minister is in three coalitions: one with the Liberal Democrats, one with the Ukip tendency in British conservatism, and one with Labour-voting Scotland. Barely a year from a general election, we still have European elections and a Scottish referendum to come.
Now more than ever, politics deserves journalism which sets the agenda while being fair and incisive. This newspaper’s unrivalled political team will strive to give it to you. Have a great weekend.