Letter from the editor: Michael Gove's crusade for justice could win popular support


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The Independent Online

What’s legalese for “The Blob”? That was the term that Michael Gove gave, when he was Education Secretary, to the assorted teaching unions, academics and special interest groups who, in his view, were blocking reform of our nurseries, schools and universities. Later Mr Gove – a former journalist with a penchant for memorable phrases – dubbed members of The Blob the “Enemies of Promise”, borrowing from Cyril Connolly’s autobiographical work of that title.

Now he has a new set of enemies in sight – the greedy lawyers of Britain. Perhaps he might call them the Enemies of Justice. Precisely because he has a missionary zeal for taking on what Tony Blair called the “forces of conservatism” opposed to reform of public services, Mr Gove’s battle with the legal establishment is likely to be one of the most entertaining, and consequential, sub-plots of this parliament.

But this time there is a key difference: whereas there was extensive and instinctive public support for the teaching profession against which Mr Gove fought so hard, there is extensive and instinctive public revulsion at the fees charged by greedy lawyers.

In a crusading speech this week, Mr Gove outlined the principles of a “One Nation” justice system. I suspect many people who opposed his polite but aggressive interventions in education would welcome his polite but aggressive declaration of intent against our “two-tier”, “antiquated” courts. He said that British justice was skewed in favour of the rich; that it has failed to take advantages of new technologies; that lawyers get perks unjustifiable in the era of austerity; and that cuts to legal aid would be reviewed – a plan which preceded his appointment.

Is there anything in this agenda to offend the centre-left? Not much; and coming after the catastrophic tenure of Chris Grayling as Justice Secretary, it’s refreshing. Perhaps the area where Mr Gove could make the biggest difference is prison reform. These “colleges of crime”, as Nick Clegg called them, are over-crowded, ineffective at rehabilitation, and house too many non-violent offenders.

This week, two of the wiser heads on our backbench – as we call the row of desks where senior editors and production staff put the paper together – observed that it seems to be a rule of modern civilisation that lawyers always win, and that one reason is they are over-represented among legislatures, including in Britain (think of Blair, Michael Howard, Kenneth Clarke, Charlie Falconer etc). It’s in the interests of the whole nation for Mr Gove to reverse that trend, hopefully annoying a lot of wealthy lawyers along the way. He may find this mission faces less resistance than his last one.

Twitter: @amolrajan