Michael Gove’s article for the Daily Mail, this morning, really is something. We’ve heard politicians criticise “celebrity culture” before now, but few, if any, have done so with the vigour and venom that the Education Secretary displays here. He takes as his starting point Simon Cowell’s lame remarks about school and success, and then journeys deep into the land that Cowell helped establish. Names are named: Chantelle Houghton, Kerry Katona, Miley Cyrus. And then it’s lamented how they are “encouraged to market themselves as commodities”.
It seems wrong to call Michael Gove an “attack dog” because that phrase is often synonymous with brutishness and stupidity, but there is still something increasingly canine about him in Government. Perhaps, judging by this list, he’s more of an attack border collie – a determined and intelligent opponent for those he chooses to oppose. I’ve written about these qualities of his before.
So, how does this attack border collie go about his work? There are a few things worth noting from his Daily Mail article; most importantly, how he bases his personal attacks on political foundations. Cowell made his remarks a week ago, and Gove criticised them at the time – yet the minister is still after the music mogul, not because of some private vendetta, but because of a belief in what’s right for the country. Hence, he starts the article off by celebrating the headteachers who have been knighted for their work. He then goes on to highlight the challenge that British students face from the “rising nations of the East”. This isn’t about calling Cowell names.
And then there’s how Gove coats his teeth with honey, so that there’s sweetness with every bite. His attack on Gordon Brown is all the more noticeable because it involves praise of Gordon Brown, and is therefore elevated above the usual political rough and tumble:
“To our discredit, politicians have paid court to Cowell and indulged the cult of celebrity. … Gordon Brown, a decent man at heart with a genuine love of learning and who should really have known better, celebrated his love of The X Factor, boasted of ringing Cowell to discuss the merits of contestants and even thought of proposing him for a knighthood.”
At which point, it’s worth mentioning that Gove isn’t simply mean to the slebs, either. He observes, for instance, that “they have the type of ambition that would lead them to succeed in almost any environment.” He has, in the past, held up the late reality teevee star Jade Goody as an inspiration for how she sought the best possible education for her children.
These are techniques that David Cameron, among other politicians, might learn from. Whether it’s his tendency to go a bit Flashman in PMQs, or his lack of tenacity in pushing forward arguments and attacks, the Prime Minister could do to modify his current approach. And who knows? It may even help with Cameron’s self-definition problems that I wrote about on Thursday. No-one would ever accuse Gove of having weak and wavering convictions.
Oh, and another thing: after this article, the Tories should probably avoid succumbing to the cult of celebrity themselves. The next time they want to set up a taskforce to look into maths teaching, probably best to ask some professor to lead it – rather than Carol Vorderman.