Coffee House

Exclusive: PM vents fury at Gove for interview on Etonians

17 March 2014

8:17 PM

17 March 2014

8:17 PM

Unsurprisingly, Michael Gove’s FT interview in which he attacked the ‘preposterous’ number of Old Etonians around David Cameron – widely interpreted as a sally on behalf of George Osborne – has gone down like a lead balloon with the Prime Minister. I understand that Cameron had a stern word with the Education Secretary over the weekend, with one source telling me that ‘he was torn a new one and given a right royal bollocking’.

Cameron has made it very clear to Gove that his words were ‘bang out of order’ and that his aim is to focus on the Cabinet job in hand, not go on freelance missions.


Meanwhile, those supporting Boris’s leadership ambitions are deeply amused by the amount of energy being expended by the Osborne camp on furthering his prospects on the Tory backbenches. One says ‘George is taking this far more seriously than Boris. Boris doesn’t have a proper operation, but George does. The only thing bigger than the pro-George operation, though, is the stop-George operation.’ The stop-George operation isn’t an organised one, but it’s made up of ambitious Tories who wouldn’t want him siphoning off all the votes in a leadership contest, those who don’t think he would make an appealing party leader, and a small but stubborn group of MPs who have a personal grudge.

Update, 9pm: Perhaps the PM will need to organise an orderly queue of ministers who need a ticking off. Baroness Warsi has tonight gone on ITV’s The Agenda (to be broadcast at 10.35pm) to pose with this:


She told Tom Bradby:

‘Michael was making an incredibly serious point that it can’t be right that the 7% of kids who go to independent school end up at the top tables, not just of politics, but banking, and law, and every other profession, and that what Michael wants to create is a first class, world class state system which means that in future years you will have more pupils from state schools, people like me, around the cabinet table, and in that I fully support Michael Gove.’

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Show comments
  • jmjm208

    I don’t think much of Gove but he’s right on this one. The Tory party went backwards when it elected Cameron. The 3 previous Tory PMs came from ordinary backgrounds.

  • Fraser Bailey

    Whatever…all these Eton muppets will be out after the next election.

    To be replaced by a bunch of equally incompetent Labour muppets, many of whom will also have been educated at a variety of public schools.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Cameron takes another step closer to the exit door but one can understand his anger at people trampling all over his political grave even before he has officially snuffed it. The only question is whether Gove was smirking when lame duck Cameron was having his hissy fit.

  • Ipsmick

    Osborne is unique in being universally booed at the London Olympics. He would go down with the electorate like a mug of cold vomit. I’d bet Labour is praying that he fulfils his leadership ambitions.

  • rjbh

    One wonders how those Eton old boys would fare if they had to experience a level playing field, where staying on to be educated at university is not just a luxury, but a luxury too many canot afford.

    At least in Scotland, ability counts more than the size of your old mans wallet, maybe that what those old boys find disturbing.

  • DWWolds

    The number of Eton Old Boys around David Cameron is a symptom of the problem. A key cause of the problem is the standard of much of our state education. And the evidence for that is the plummeting of the achievement of our 15 year olds down the PISA league tables.

  • Tom Tom

    Pathetic, but I suppose it is village politics in Trumpton

  • Obvious really

    The teacher’s training colleges were over-run by Militant many years ago. The result has been that no child should be seen to be better than another so that all are ground down to universal mediocrity. We will continue to slide down to third world status until this attitude can be changed.

  • D Whiggery

    I find it hard to believe that Cameron is capable of ripping anyone a new one, least of all Michael Gove. What he is probably capable of though is getting in a red faced temper and storming out of the room.

  • asalord

    “PM vents fury” What? More food-throwing tantrums?

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Question is did he chuck his mobile phone across the room?

  • kyalami

    Eton is an excellent school. However old Etonians are grotesquely over-represented in government.

  • rjbh

    News of this little spat is of course music to the ears of Alex Salmond. Alex will be able to point again to the fact that, Scotland is run by a bunch of Old Boy Toffs, who care nothing for Scotland as long as we keep sending our Oil revenues to the Treasury, to provide subsidies for the City state of London.

    Well done Gove.

  • Tony_E

    The PM is being really silly about all this. He should have backed Gove because what the minister is saying is absolutely correct.

    It’s perfectly reasonable for the PM to say that he chose the best ministers from the group of MPs elected to parliament by the voters – and that they happen to be weighted heavily towards the independent school background.

    What Michael Gove is trying to do is to level the playing field between Independent and state sectors. People might not agree with the way he is doing it, but that is his intention. And he’s not doing it the way that Labour tried to do it – i.e. by trying to remove funding from independent schools by removing their charitable status. He’s trying to raise the level by starting with the fundamental truth – that we have been kidding ourselves about how good we were and that the approach since the 60’s has been creating better and better results.

    Unfortunately, our thin skinned PM saw it as a personal attack, or just another bad headline to fight, and forgot what the prize was – better education and a change in the nation’s attitude to the status quo.

  • Frank

    Good that Stanley Johnson has sallied forth to ask that Boris be given a chance to lead the Tories even though he is not in Parliament. How more absurd can this competition get?
    As for Cameron / Gove / Warsi, one sees how much authority Cameron commands!

  • Rush_is_Right
  • BarkingAtTreehuggers

    I love it, select farrago toffy Tories go full blown fruitcakey over nowt.
    Everyone else has long thought Tunnock’s and gone Haribo.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Is that “fat bloke on tour” under different guise perchance?

  • matt

    baroness warsi has just dropped a bomb on the Agenda, surprise she is in with gove and osborne

    • AnotherDave

      What did she say?

  • ButcombeMan

    I simply do not believe this. Even if true why on earth should Gove give a toss. Cameron is finished. Not even those around him now believe he can win in 2015 and anyway Gove is correct. The public know it, Cameron knows it.

  • Jambo25

    Cameron created the problem by having such an exclusive, out of touch group round about him. Truth hurts.

  • Doggie Roussel

    Phwoaaaar… that Baroness Warsi looks up for it ….

    • rtj1211

      No doubt her husband can confirm that for you?!

  • Vic Neal

    “Gove” us another one! It’s like the 3rd in line to the throne telling the first in line that there are too many royals about.

    • Toxteth O’Grady

      How so?

  • Doggie Roussel

    Cameron’s tearing a strip off the school swot, Gove, is probably as harsh or apposite than Denis Healey’s famous quip about being criticised by Sir Geoffrey Howe and comparing it to being savaged by a dead sheep.

    There is still a vestige of life in Cameron, although his recent mutilation by Merkel and his incredibly limp-wristed performances on the world stage would suggest that his days are well and truly numbered.

    The macho, vine-swinging Boris is leaping from branch to branch in the jungles in Westminster, waiting for an opening… other than yet another virginal and fragrant denizen of his urban manor… and Gorgeous George continues to simper and mince as he tones his elegant limbs on the latest diet fad… crikey … has he been reading his wife’s turbulent account of her ancestry in her recent tome, The Bolter</i….

    Regrettably at the moment all allegations of swordsmanship are focused on the Lothario from UKIP, who is being slagged off … much to the mirth of Baroso and Ashton… in the chambers of Brussels… and by some hideous she-man no less…

    Oh, lackaday !

    • rtj1211

      I really don’t see why it’s OK for Boris to be PM after shagging I don’t know how many dusky maidens but if Farage does likewise he’s off into the dark blue yonder.

      You either say that rogering’s a sign of a red blooded man or you hang ’em all.

      Not one rule for Etonians and one rule for self-made men.

      • Magnolia

        I think in the modern world the electorate will probably forgive any amount of infidelity providing that the spouse sticks by them and that the family isn’t split apart or seen to be hurt.
        People understand temptation and ‘sin’ because they are human.
        What they dislike are self centred, egotistical pleasure seekers.

      • Wessex Man

        You had to laugh though, the Mail in all their 19th century glory didn’t know if they should run the Nikki Sinclair article or not and in the ran it without realising dear Nikki had left UKip years ago to set up her own party, hows that going Nikki? are you going to amalgamate with Godfrey Bloom and his party? I can imagine a few problems there!

  • Daniel Maris

    Didn’t we just pass the Ides of March? Beware!

    • Doggie Roussel

      Et tu, Brute

  • The Commentator

    Just shows what an enfeebled lightweight Cameron is. Who should I lay into today? Labour, Lib-Dems’, UKIP, Alex Salmond? No. I’m going to attack my most loyal cabinet minister! Political genius.

    • JohnSeers

      But he was not very loyal was he?

      • Weaver

        Perhaps “most effective” would be more accurate. But you can be loyal without being slavish.

        • JohnSeers

          You do not want slavish people in the cabinet indeed. It would be a stretch to call that still being loyal though. Quite a personal jibe I would say.

      • Wessex Man

        just telling the truth, nothing wrong with that.

        • JohnSeers

          No, not just telling the truth. He commented on a situation judgementally. That is an opinion and a value judgement – not “the truth”.

          • Wessex Man

            He was telling the truth or are they lying when they say they went to Eton?

            • JohnSeers

              He was commenting that there were too many people from Eton in the cabinet.

          • e2toe4

            He;s flagging up the reason the polls aren’t coming right….the ‘We’re all in it together’ is a cracking slogan..and a good idea. But thanks to the actions and lack of actions over the last few years it has been allowed to become ‘You’re all in it together, we’re not…” And that’s why an election that is there to be won is being lost.

            Gove sees that…and Cameron has probably given a nod to go for it…if only because something needs to happen to alter the trajectory of events…

  • Shinsei1967

    Perhaps a “royal” bollocking isn’t the most appropriate response to an accusation of too much upper class poshness.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Never interrupt your enemy in the course of a mistake. Raising the Eton question is a mistake, suppressing it is a mistake too. Oh, and being vulnerable to the question in the first place and not knowing why it’s wrong, that’s a mistake too.

    • telemachus

      In truth the actual mistake is Eton
      Tax this and all the other independent schools to the point of non viability

      • hugo761

        Where would we get our educated people from then? Certainly not the state sector. Since 1997 we’ve slid down the international education tables due to exam inflation and teaching practices based on Marxist dogma.

        • Shazza

          Yup. The Left would like to see the following talents in a future Prime Minister –

          Failed to achieve pass grades in English and Maths at GCSE
          Historical knowledge -The abuse the English heaped on the rest of the world.
          Father to 3 mixed race children from 3 different mothers.
          Favourite TV programme – Big Brother
          Mastermind subject – X Factor
          Interests – football

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Well, as you imply he will have had secks with a woman, he wouldn’t qualify, obviously.

          • Jethro Asquith

            Many people revere such people these days and go out of their way to denigrate anybody that should be well educated, married with a stable family who likes the arts and culture (apparently that makes you a bad person).

            What a sad state of affairs!

          • SeekTruthFromFacts

            The only recent Prime Minister who left school without an O-level/GCSE/Standard grade in maths was a Tory….

            And I believe the Conservatives are the only major party to have a sitting MP participate in a celebrity TV show, though I don’t watch them and might be out of date.

          • Kennybhoy

            Crying and laughing at the same time! 🙂


        • Ipsmick

          This, I am afraid, is total horlicks. I taught in a top university. The best students were state-educated. At times I thought that had I forked out for a private education I’d be asking for my money back. Although I suppose you cannot pay too much for immaculate manners.

          • hugo761

            Yep, thanks to the evidence of your hearsay opinions, I can now see that Britain is doing very well in the international arena.

          • Kennybhoy

            “The best students were state-educated.”

            Quite possibly. But I would bet that they went to those state schools which select by post-code/income and are in effect grammars.

        • Christopher Lennon

          The UK is the only country in the World where, having produced some of the best schools and universities, many wish to exclude from public life anyone who attended them. It’s called inverted snobbery and we have it in spades.

          • hugo761

            Perhaps when we produce exam results that look good internationally as well as to our internal, lefty academics, things might change.

      • kyalami

        Eton is an exceptional school. However, you reveal how the socialist politics of envy would see that destroyed. Idiot.

        • Kitty MLB

          Well said . As said elsewhere where, and to continue on
          from what you say. In normal life you would aspire for
          the best, especially when someone has a duty to serve you.
          Yet in politics we now aim for as little as possible to be goal,
          as long as they are like us.
          The diminishment of inspiration as we create little
          cloned lefties and continue dumbing down the UK at every

      • monty61

        I wouldn’t say that – they certainly deserve to exist and do produce good results for the most part. (Whether this persists at university is up for debate – my wife, an academic, complains frequently about the teacher-dependent types some of these schools turn out, expecting spoon feeding and teaching-to-the-test to carry on into university, an expectation that totally misses the point).

        But there’s certainly a case for revoking charitable status, where the charity in this case is to (by definition) the richest 10% of households.

        Where I live in Berkshire though the local comp has results in the A*-C 5 GCSE test in the 90% bracket, just as good as the £40k a year independent almost across the road. This is down to parents, I suspect, as much as the school.

        Revoking charitable status would certainly shrink the independent sector, leading to a flood of aspirational parents into the state system. In conjunction with Gove’s reforms, this could well transform state sector’s overall results (with spin offs surely across the board).

        • Tom M

          There is a case for revoking the charitable status (see my post below). Level the playing field by allowing parents to have their children educated privately and taking their state contribution for education with them. That’s fair. They can then pay the difference to the private school.
          I think it is an inalienable right for parents to choose where they have their children educated. Monopolies in any sphere are bad news and more so when the state is the monopoly.

      • Magnolia

        Labour hate the idea of parents and children being able to have any choice in schooling.
        My little child was miserable in their state primary school, having learnt to read the ‘wrong way’ at home and being chronically bored.
        They were told that they were not suitable for a grammar school place despite being assessed as gifted by the LEA educational psychologist.
        They were bullied rotten for being ‘brainy’ at their non-selective secondary school in a grammar school area but they also made some lovely friends.
        Sixth form choice was between grammar school with bullies or scholarship to public school on parents life savings.
        No contest.
        We already pay tax for every other kid’s education and so we paid twice over for our child’s A level years, more if you include the fees being paid out of our taxed income.
        Result, best money we ever spent, happy, well rounded contented kid who was treated as an individual, and who was the joint top performing pupil in academic terms for their year.
        We also freed up a grammar school place for another child.
        Money can’t buy brains but a good school will make the best of them.
        Why do Labour want to deny parental choice in schools?

        • Jethro Asquith

          Well done, sir. I commend you for your actions.

          • Wessex Man

            We had exactly the same problems with grandchildren, one of whom became really withdrawn and when I sat him down, it trned out that the Teacher had screamed at him to shut up asking me questions all the time. He was also bullied for being ‘brainy’ and physically attacked.

            • Kennybhoy

              Jesus wept…

              I hear way to many such stories.These bitches and bastards belong behind bars….

              • jaydeepee

                Or get a huge dose of MTFU. Can’t have little Quentin being startled, can we?

        • Kennybhoy

          So glad it worked out for you all in the end.

          God bless you all.

      • The Laughing Cavalier

        If you want to level the playing field, stop destroying excellence and level up, not down.

      • Tom M

        I agree with you and the implication that private schools are ducking tax because of their charitable status.
        I suggest that this concession be removed and a sysyem along the lines of private schools in France is employed.
        Private schools in France, contract to the state and have their teachers paid by the state. The pupils accordingly only pay the difference in the running costs of facilities and even then only on a sliding scale according to income.
        Much more equal don’t you think?

        • Kennybhoy

          There is a reason we call them “independent schools”…

          • Tom M

            Perhaps I didn’t make it clear enough. French contracted schools are independent in how they teach children. They must, however, follow the national curriculum (that is logical to me). They can and do provide a whole host of other activities that are not available in state schools and this is paid for by the parents contributions as in UK independent schools.

      • ButcombeMan

        Our non State schools (& our Universities & Sandhurst)represent a substantial trade advantage, both in the funding they bring and in the future links and goodwill they bring internationally.

        Your remarks are very stupid. Any such taxation would make these educational advantages even more exclusive as the schools moved abroad.

    • e2toe4

      Well put….can’t improve on that…

  • glassfet

    And who are these un-named sources? Are they in team Osborne, team Boris, team Gove, or might they just be in team Ed?

    • Hello

      “with one source telling me that ‘he was torn a new one and given a right royal bollocking’”

      I think it must have been Del Boy…or else one of the Etonians.

  • WatTylersGhost

    Squabbling over deck chairs on the Titanic.

    • Hello

      And you are the obstinate iceberg, ineffective beyond sinking the ship.

      • WatTylersGhost

        Who caused the ship to sink, the captain or the iceberg?

        • Wessex Man

          and well done for that Sir!

      • the viceroy’s gin

        The iceberg doesn’t sink the ship. The clueless muppets running full speed ahead during full darkness and in icy waters sinks the ship.

        No clueless muppets, no sinking ship.

        • Hello

          That was at the beginning of the 20th century. We have global warming now, you chaps should do the decent thing and melt.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            A better idea is if you clueless muppets disappeared.

            • Hello

              And you’d still just be an iceberg somewhere south of Newfoundland, only no one would really care that much.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …but you clueless muppets will have disappeared, and the world cares very much about that.

                …and I thought you said your global warmingist mythology was getting rid of icebergs? You clueless muppets should try to keep your story straight.

          • The Laughing Cavalier

            There has been no warming for 17 years.

        • e2toe4

          Spot on…. this election ought to be Barca V Bolton (2nd leg..1st leg 5-0 up) given the facts and situation..but clueless muppetry is seizing disaster from the jaws of mere defeat…

          Smart, fat, sleek boys with self satisfied demeanour –that isn’t a look that sells…… and I’m someone who thinks there IS a good story to tell…

      • Lady Magdalene

        It should be easy for a Captain of Cameron’s abilities to avoid a bloomin’ big iceberg like that.
        But he steered straight at it even when he could see it looming ahead and he’s left it far too late to change course now.

    • monty61

      Maybe but the Speccy’s picture editor should get a credit on this story spectacular choice of illustrations! Well done that chap/chapess.

      • e2toe4

        That’ll be an algorithim…maybe not the Spectator probably hasn’t found one yet…

    • Kitty MLB

      As apposed to Labour rats savaging each other
      on the Marie Celeste.

      • Endangered Moderate

        Mary Celeste is the vessel’s registry name….

  • HD2

    Gove for PM!
    [Plan B: telegenic Hunt for PM and Gove as Chancellor. Both committed BOO-ers}

    • Josh Adams

      Jeremy Hunt is just a sly weasel, Gove, whilst an intelligent man, seems to view every major issue through the lens of a right-wing conspiracy theorist. Thinking that somehow there’s a liberal-left agenda out to scupper all his plans and undermine Britain’s great institutions or something…

      For the Tory party there doesn’t seem to be a sane candidate for Leadership, bar (dare I say it) David bloody Cameron. Theresa May makes a close second I think.

      • Colonel Mustard

        “Thinking that somehow there’s a liberal-left agenda out to scupper all his plans and undermine Britain’s great institutions or something…”

        Now why would anyone think the “liberal”-left had an agenda of such common purpose?

        Tee-hee. I understand the soviets locked up dissidents for “mental illness” too.