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.
Michael Gove's memorable moments
Michael Gove's memorable moments
1/5 Gove 'claims people move to London for “loads of hot sex”'
The Tory politician allegedly made a surprising claim that no doubt led to chair of Tech City UK Joanne Shields spluttering into her coffee when he reportedly explained to her that London’s young entrepreneurs have been attracted to the capital because of all of the “hot sex” on offer. Hmmmm.
2/5 Gove and the #BritishValues backlash
The Twitter sphere decided to educate the Education Secretary on some of the traits actually associated with being British, after it emerged schools would be required to encourage the promotion of “fundamental British values” in the classroom in the wake of the Birmingham “Trojan Horse” investigation. Among the many suggestions were Stuart Brown’s summary of: “Being wary of foreigners while having a Belgian beer with an Indian curry in your Spanish villa wearing Indonesian clothes.” LBC presenter James O’Brien meanwhile suggested “queuing; dressing inappropriately when the sun comes out; warm beer; winning World Wars; immigration & Pot Noodles” could be placed within the British Values bracket, while “socks and sandals” and “complaining about immigration” have proved relatively popular.
PA; E+; Getty Images
3/5 Gove performs Wham! rap to school children
As part of the BBC’s News School Report project, school children were given the opportunity to interview Mr Gove, who claimed to be a fan of rap music. When asked by one girl if he would give them “a taster of your favourite rap”, he responded with an impromptu performance of a Wham! song, complete with bobbing, fist clenching and the lines: “Hey everybody look at me, I’ve got street credibility. I may not have a job but I have a good time with the boys I meet down on the line.”
4/5 Gove is filmed falling over in a Vine
The (very blurry) moment Gove was filmed falling over before hurriedly climbing back up and walking off in a Vine quickly went viral.
5/5 Gove poses for selfie with school children
In a trend that stubbornly refuses to disappear, Mr Gove decided to jump on the bandwagon by posing for a selfie – although he did apparently warn the children to “watch out that he didn’t break the camera”.
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.
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