By Mark Wallace
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In the latest edition of the Spectator, Toby Young studies the revolutionary tactics and moral zeal of Michael Gove. He cites the Education Secretary's fondness for adopting the language of Communism – be it in terms of "permanent revolution" or Gramsci's long march through the institutions – but crucially sees beyond the jokey surface of such remarks.
Yes, it's amusing to see the Left struggle to deal with a Conservative who cites the slogans of beret-wearing barricade-builders. But the attention Gove pays to Lenin, Marx, Trotsky and Gramsci goes far beyond the self-mocking habit some rightists have of greeting each other as "comrade" – he means it in practice.
He appreciates an often-neglected truth: that in the face of a left-wing establishment, it is the right in Britain who have a revolutionary task to fulfil. In terms of his education brief, that has meant taking on the entrenched power of the education unions, handing power to parents rather than bureaucrats and radically reforming the school system to offer opportunity to those with the least money as well as the most. Almost everything he found on his first day will be abolished or changed by the time this Parliament comes to a close.
His tactical approach is based on a similar analysis – that the right has far too often won the arguments but lost the war, because leftist tactics work. As Young points out, Gove is unusual among Conservatives in making moral arguments at least as much as he uses statistics:
"There are moments during his endless round of television and radio debates when he seems to catch fire, harnessing an Old Testament rage that is more reminiscent of Labour firebrands like Nye Bevan and Michael Foot than a Tory grandee."
The heart is often more important than the head in politics – while it is best to ensure an argument is based on both, Gove makes such progress because he appeals to the electorate's sense of justice, fairness and – where necessary – fury at the way the education system lets down children.
In practical terms, he also appreciates the need to ensure policies are being implemented by like-minded revolutionaries. He has not shied away from sacking people if necessary, and has not kowtowed to vested interests in the teaching unions because he recognises that it is pointless to try to win over those whose aim has always been to sabotage his plans.
It's understandable that Conservatives are often wary to embrace an approach which is traditionally associated with our enemies – but if we do not do so then our enemies will continue to win.
The poisonous culture of low expectations damned in today's Ofsted report gained power in the education system in the 1970s precisely because its advocates harnessed the language of fairness. After 40 years of damage done, we now know beyond doubt that the outcomes of their ideas were deeply immoral – but they were implemented because the right allowed the left to seize the moral high ground at the time.
Gove's key realisation is that such a failure must not be repeated. His dash to revolutionise the education system takes place in the short term, spurred on by the knowledge that this may be a one-term Government, but the prize if he is successful will only be delivered in the long-term.
The changes wrought by his work will, if fully implemented, deliver a more skilled, more independent-minded workforce, a more entrepreneurial population, an education system hard-wired to constantly improve through competition and – crucially – a transfer of power from Whitehall and the unions to teachers and parents which will be politically impossible to reverse.
I suspect he appreciates the resonance his idea have with a famous quote of Lenin's:
"Give me four years to teach the children, and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted."
Gove would mean it literally, whereas Lenin meant it in propaganda terms, but the point still stands.
There are wider lessons from the experience in the Department of Education.
First, that it makes the world of difference to have a minister who cares about their brief. Speculation is always ripe about Gove's ambitions, but there can be no doubt that what he wants right now is to reform education – he isn't marking time proving he is a safe pair of hands in the hope of an eventual promotion.
Second, that despite our name, Conservatives now have a revolutionary mission – it is our job to create a state that works, not to defend flawed, left wing institutions just because they were in place on the day of the General Election.
Third, that while some on the left should be studied and learned from, others should be rejected outright. Gordon Brown looked like Stalin incarnate when he recited reams of tractor production-style statistics to justify his policies (and, for that matter, when he bullied and terrified his underlings).
Ministers must resist the temptation to recite only the numbers and instead discover a moral voice – the socialist establishment we are tasked with revolutionising has done great harm to a great many people, and like Gove we should all be furious about its failings.