Michael Gove talks of the need for new leadership. He could not lead a rat out of a sewer with a slice of cake
The cabinet office minister still has not worked out that he is not a detached doctor, taking a look at the nation＊s unpleasant symptoms. He is part of the disease itself
With his latest undergraduate essay, 52-year-old Michael Gove has confirmed his place as one of the great thinkers of this or any era.
Before we get on to why, it is perhaps worth explaining the noble tradition in which the great man follows.
All political philosophy is, to varying degrees, bogus. This is not a counter-intuitive argument or a bit of cheap smart-alecry but a statement of historical fact.
The sacred texts that underpin liberal democracy, for example, were not written to help us build such a society but as a retrospective and quite often highly dubious justification for how things came to be the way they are.
To take but one example: when, in 1651, Thomas Hobbes became one of the very many people to write about how you＊re better off sacrificing a little bit of your liberty as a price for the protection of the rest of it by a ruler of some kind, it wasn＊t done to persuade the people to pony up the liberty in question. It was done to please the king who had already helped himself to said liberty by force.
It is only once you come to understand this, that you are yourself liberated to elevate Gove to the high plateau upon which he truly belongs.
Other stories from the weekend include the constructive dismissal of the head of the civil service, and the hundreds of people who died from Covid-19, but when a new Gove has dropped out of nowhere like a Beyonc谷 album, who frankly cares?
Arguably, Gove is the most compelling character of the Brexit drama. The rest of them don＊t appear to be losing so much as a wink of sleep at all over their empty promises having turned so clearly to dust. It is only Gove who feels compelled to provide high and mighty, self-exculpatory analysis of his own abysmal behaviour in real time 每 to argue that, in fact, black was always white.
It is possible that he has not yet worked out that he is simply not a columnist any more. That as he talks in his lecture about how ※the model that the current generation of political leaders inherited has been crumbling§, he hasn＊t even come to realise that it has crumbled in this country because he, Gove, has been busy smashing it to pieces with populist lies.
Like Hobbes and the rest, Gove writes not to persuade but to excuse, with the key difference being that he is both the excuser and excusee.
This real-time Gove-on-Gove analysis makes modern life thrillingly dystopian. It is like we are all watching a Sex and the City episode in which Gove provides an off-screen voiceover on how things came to be as ruined as they are, while never quite addressing the pictures on screen in which he can be clearly seen burning everything to the ground.
Gove begins his latest treatise on self-apologia with the words taken from the prison diaries of the Italian communist theorist Antonio Gramsci. And why wouldn＊t he? Only a pedant would point out that Gramsci, who spent 11 years being starved to death in prison because the Italian people had been taken in by a two-bit populist, wrote about the ruinous times in which he lived from the position of having been ruined by them himself. If Gramsci had not been a political prisoner suffering daily brutality and torture, but an actual member of the government meting it out, one imagines his analysis might have been a touch different.
All the usual stuff is there, of course. Of how Brexit was about the liberal elites having lost touch with normal people, and how it was ※those who had been forgotten asking to be remembered§.
Gove is certainly not alone in being a pundit seeking to load his own reasons and interpretations on to the blunt reality of a political event.
Where Gove is very much different though is that the reasons he now claims for people voting for Brexit bear no relation whatsoever to the reasons he, personally, chose to give them to do so at the time.
Now, naturally, Brexit is the great opportunity to build a fairer country, something which we are now meant to believe you can＊t do without exterminating all moderate Tory MPs, and ridding the civil service of anyone with the temerity to whisper the stunningly obvious truth that leaving the EU is the stupidest thing this country has ever done.
If these were the real reasons people voted for Brexit, why go to such great lengths to hone the offer down to two blatant lies about funding for the NHS and Turkish immigration?
We learn, of course, that there is ※a deep sense of disenchantment on the part of many of our citizens with a political system they feel has failed them ＃ this sense that those who had been in power had presided over a growing gulf in both wealth and attitudes, and were no longer working in solidarity with other citizens.§
Wherever has he got this idea from? For many, many millions of people there is a disenchantment with a political system in which actions have stopped having consequences. That you can go on television and lie and lie and lie and lie your guts out about why you broke your own rules on lockdown, about testing your eyesight by driving a Land Rover with your kid in the back, and then just carry on as normal.
Or there＊s the little tale of Gove＊s own cabinet colleague Robert Jenrick forcing through a planning application against the advice of the civil service, so that Tory donor Richard Desmond can pocket an extra ?100m or so. Boris Johnson has declared this matter closed. Jenrick remains in his job. The civil service, on the other hand, needs radical reform, so that the ordinary people are not forgotten.
Having begun as Gramsci, Gove ends up as Franklin D Roosevelt, who apparently also smashed up his own civil service to empower people to do more ※risk taking§. The future, as Gove sees it, will be all about risk taking. Who knows what risks, exactly, but we can only hope there＊ll be even more to come, just like the one about pursuing a completely different Covid-19 strategy to virtually all of the rest of the world, and leaving tens of thousands of people very much preventably dead.
He is, of course, right that the world is in a mess, but it is in a mess because it has allowed itself to fall into the grip of populist leaders who have worked out that there is now a clear path to power through sowing anger and division rather than unity and consensus; who have worked out that the easiest way to deal with a problem is to lie about it, or just ignore it, rather than solve it.
And even in the moment of his great pious blaggery, Gove cannot help but give away his tell, with his low-grade digs at the woke left who ※write for The New York Times§ and who are ※sensitive to the harm caused by alleged micro-aggressions§.
The danger, not just in the years ahead but right now, is the politics of them and us, which has taken hold in this country through the very deliberate, and ruthless words and deeds of the people who are now running it. Gove has the temerity to talk of the leadership of FDR as the salvation the world now urgently requires.
Brexit was the triumph of anti-leadership 每 the deliberate pursuit of the lowest common denominator. Gove could not lead a rat out of a sewer with a slice of cake.
As it happens, there appears to be a very strong chance in the coming months that the United States will take a giant leap back towards functioning politics.
We, on the other hand, will be stuck with the lies and the dysfunction for as long as it takes for this terrible clique to be found out and flushed out the other end of the system.