By Tim Montgomerie
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In previous years the ConHome Editors have chosen politicians of the year ourselves but we have done it differently this year. We have asked readers to choose three politicians who have flourished in 2011. Today we announce the winner of the top accolade: Conservative of 2011.
Michael Gove was the overwhelming choice of nearly 2,000 people who took part in our end-December survey*. The Education Secretary won just over 50% of the votes. The runner up was David Cameron. Iain Duncan Smith came third.
Over a year ago Mr Gove seemed an embattled figure. His overhaul of the Building for Schools programme hadn't gone well and he was regularly summoned to the Commons by a lip-smacking John Bercow to explain himself. There was even some talk of him not surviving.
Today he rivals Iain Duncan Smith as the success story of the Coalition and unlike the Work and Pensions Secretary he does not have the massive hurdle of a very complex computerisation project between him and his flagship policy**. In fact it's not clear if Mr Gove has a flagship policy. It's almost as if he has a fleet of ambitious policies…
- The growth in the number of academies is the fastest change of its kind. All over the country more and more schools are free of local authority control. Headteachers are choosing how their schools are run.
- Despite cynicism and huge bureaucratic resistance the first wave of free schools has been launched. Choice and diversity have arrived in the education system. If free schools are allowed to make profits we will see the number multiply. Cameron must make it happen and if Clegg listens to his principal advisers it will. Julian Astle has made the case as compellingly as anyone on the Right for a more private sector dimension to school supply.
- The English Baccalaureate – rightly championed by Liz Truss – will ensure schools focus on serious subjects.
- George Osborne is standing with Michael Gove in his focus on maths and science teaching. The money may have run out but the Chancellor still found tens of millions of pounds more in his Autumn Statement for a new generation of selective science colleges. Yes, selective.
- Exam reform. Gove appears to relish the prospect of being the first Education Secretary in a long time to preside over a "decline" in exam results. He wants exams to mean something again. He has declared war on grade inflation.
Also in the armada is a new discipline code, an overhaul of history teaching, a return to elitism, simplification of the adoption regime, as well as a new schools building programme. Even Simon Heffer has been wooed.
All this doesn't just add up to a love of learning it adds up to the most important plank of the Coalition's economic strategy. Gove understands what Liz Truss has articulated. "China and India, for example, are turning out twice as many maths and science graduates as all of the EU countries put together." We address killer facts like that or we stagnate.
Is Gove perfect? Of course not. He has sometimes allied himself with Sarah Teather in resisting a sensible family policy. He has been unhelpful to Theresa May on immigration. He hesitated on AV. This incredibly mild-mannered and polite man can flip and speed from zero to 60 mph with his rhetoric. To the annoyance of colleagues he's too talkative in Cabinet. Too deferential to Cameron. But he's a brilliant Education Secretary. If Gove stays in post – and Clegg is thwarted in his ambition to install a big beast Liberal Democrat alongside him – he could well become a historic Education Secretary. I have no doubt that many of his plans have yet to see the light of day.
Alongside him he has a fantastic team. Tim Loughton, Nick Gibb and John Hayes are poster boys for the benefits of keeping people in their jobs long enough for them to master their briefs. Dom Cummings is his brilliant lead adviser. It is no accident that Gove's most difficult days coincided with the period when Andy Coulson was blocking Cummings' appointment. Years of preparation led to this point. James O'Shaugnessy, Tim Chatwin, Sam Freedman, David Green, Robert Whelan, Rachel Wolf and others I've undoubtedly overlooked have all helped forge this great project.
Michael Gove is the ConservativeHome readership's Conservative of 2011.
* The poll was kept open since earlier results were published, when 1,566 people had voted.
** Iain Duncan Smith's Universal Credit can only work if Whitehall delivers a real time reporting system that will ensure claimants' benefits are topped up by an amount that ensures they are always better off in work.