by Paul Goodman
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George Osborne was first off the blocks to commemorate Margaret Thatcher, doing so in the Times (£), and Owen Paterson was second, doing so on this site.
Other have followed since, and all have been laudatory. Michael Gove
has held back until today, despite being seen by many admirers of
Thatcher as the Cabinet Minister who, in government, has followed in her
footsteps most closely, for three main reasons.
First, he's had more executive impact than any other Cabinet
Minister – thus making an impact, as she did. Second, he's done so at
Education, a department often seen as having institutional centre-left
sympathies; certainly it was certainly a department which frustrated and
tamed her when she was herself Secretary of State. Finally, his free
schools policy in particular is winning converts for conservatism, or at
least a hearing for its views and values in places where it previously
hasn't always had one. Gove has learned Thatcherite lessons about
raiding behind the opposition's lines and reaching "the rising class".
His piece behind the Times paywall
is therefore all the more interesting because it is the least
hagiographical of all those that have appeared to date. Gove
acknowledges his early socialism, but writes that by the time he went to
University he knew that "while half
the world was ruled by tyrannies and totalitarian cliques, Britain had a
leader determined to liberate them" – a nod to his still-undimmed
neo-conservative take on foreign policy.
However, he adds that "the attitude of my
generation of Conservatives is now more complex." Why? Because the
transition from a manufacturing economy to a modern one meant that the
Eighties were "years of loss and
sorrow for millions". The Education Secretary says that "social bonds
need to be
nurtured more carefully", and lauds the values of "care, nurture and
protect the vulnerable at times of change".
The sum of the article is that while some Conservatives of his
generation saw Thatcher as "mother", the grown-up course for them now is
to go their own way – acknowledging, as adults must, that while
children should honour their parents, they must also live their own
lives. It is a strikingly bold and critical take – Thatcherite in
breaking a cosy consensus; confirmation that Gove likes to go his own
way, and risky, in terms of his relationship with the party's right.