Coffee House

Michael Gove attacks Tristram Hunt for not knowing difference between education and health

24 March 2014

4:23 PM

24 March 2014

4:23 PM

Education questions is always interesting in the sense that the main players are quite energetic and keen for debate and there is a genuine divide now between the two main parties (and indeed within the Coalition). But today’s session was interesting in the sense that a grandmother describes a Christmas present they don’t quite understand as ‘interesting’ because Tristram Hunt used his slot to grill the Education Secretary about a health issue.

‘More and more research shows the importance of early years development in a child’s education. The Labour party Sure Start programme was focused on supporting those vital infant years, a policy of prevention rather than cure. We know Mr Speaker that the Tories do not support Sure Start but in 2010 the Secretary of State pledged to create 4,200 new health visitors. Can he now tell the House just how far he is off meeting this target?’

Gove replied that he supported Sure Start but that health visitors were a matter for the Secretary of State for Health. But Hunt pressed on. He said:

‘Mr Speaker, that is exactly the problem with this government. No cross-departmental thinking about having health visitors focus on early years development.’

Tory MPs were honking with laughter at this point. Hunt continued, telling the Commons that ‘we on this side of the House think that the early years are vitally important’. ‘So is the government’s commitment to 4,200 new health visitors going to be matched this parliament?’ he asked.


Gove sprang back up to the despatch box and said:

‘The early years are indeed very important: that’s when children often learn to spell and it’s important that the Secretary of State tells the different between education – E-D-U-C-A-T-I-O-N – and health – H-E-A-L-T-H – responsibility for health visitors, like responsibility for doctors and nurses is for the Secretary of State for Health and I suggest that he address those questions to my right honourable friend.’

Gove later joked that Hunt couldn’t think of any interesting questions on education so was instead asking questions about health. So what’s going on here? Gove gave an interview to Mumsnet in April 2010 in which he explained that the Conservatives wanted to increase the number of health visitors by 4,200, and repeated that pledge once in government in a letter to headteachers and governors in December 2010.

Hunt wants to argue that Gove and co are not interested in the early years just as he has been arguing for a while that Gove isn’t interested in proper vocational eduction. Given the number of times the Education Secretary has referred to this pledge himself, it wasn’t unreasonable for his shadow to raise the issue, but it didn’t quite work because Gove had a good put down, and Hunt a poor point when he tried to suggest that one department not wanting to encroach on another’s turf is ‘exactly the problem with this government’. It’s strange, too, because there are now many clear dividing lines between Labour and the Tories on education, whether that’s because Gove pulled the pegs out of his Big Tent, or Labour strolled out of its own accord.

Tristram Hunt, Liz Truss, Alison Wolf, Toby Young and more will be speaking at The Spectator’s  annual schools conference ‘How British schools can lead the world’ on 3 April 2014 in Central London. Click here to find out more.

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Show comments
  • Peter Stroud

    I watched the encounter on BBC Parliament. It was most amusing; Gove was a clear winner

  • HJ777

    Whoever you generally agree with, it is very clear that Michael Gove knows what he is trying to do and is a very effective minister.

    Hunt, unfortunately, is ineffectual and confused. He reminds me of Ed Miliband.

    Surely Labour can do better?

    • DWWolds

      Perhaps they cannot. Indeed perhaps “perhaps” is a superfluous word there.

  • post_x_it

    Yes, but the health secretary is a Hunt, which probably confused Tristram because he is also a Hunt.

  • LadyDingDong

    It comes as no surprise that a labtard princeling, who is unable to tell his nether regions from his elbow, cannot distinguish between his brief and that of Health. If James I was the most learned fool in Christendom, then the useless Hunt can be described as the most educated fool in the HoC.

    • Andy

      A security guard who works for me has a couple of children with PhD’s. None of them could look up a train timetable. As he says they can give you a 3 hour lecture about a light bulb, but are totally incapable of changing one ! He describes them as ‘Educated Idiots’.

      • Colonel Mustard

        ‘Idiocracy’ here we come.

      • grammarschoolman

        Then perhaps he should have done his job of teaching them domestic things. Or perhaps the lack of brain that has prevented him doing anything better than security stopped him doing that too? The anti-intellectual prejudice that he (and you) embody is precisely what has held this country back for far too long, and is what Gove is making every effort to eradicate – for everyone’s good, including that of Officer Numbskull.

    • Shinsei1967

      Didn’t you read past the first paragraph. Gove has talked in the past about how he wants more Health Visitors to schools and so it is clearly an issue on which the Education Sec should be able to give an answer.

      • P_S_W

        Hardly. As has been previously mentioned, he is the Secretary for Education, not Health, and therefore cannot make decisions that are outside his remit. He may well have an interest in this area and may well be talking to his counterpart in Health, but the responsibility for making that decision and the budget that would pay for it are not his.

        “Can he now tell the House just how far he is off meeting this target?’”

        It’s won’t be his target so how can he comment on it with authority?

        • Shinsei1967

          As you say he has an interest in this area and he has made speeches about it and referred to it in letters to head teachers and governors.

          It may well be that he has no authority over the funding or employment of health visitors to schools but he can’t claim that this has nothing to do with him as he appears to be saying to Hunt.

          It’s not as if he is being asked about GP contracts or hospital closures.

          • P_S_W

            So please tell me what he say that would avoid Hunt trying to make even more political capital out of an area that he actually has zero responsibility for or the media that starts banging on about how Gove is trying to take over Health.

            • Shinsei1967

              It was an innocuous question from Hunt (arguably he should have more important things to ask Gove) which could have been met with a simple “discussions still under way with my colleagues at Dept of Health and one of us will be making an announcement in the summer”.

              Instead Gove decided to make a thing about it by making Hunt look silly. And the rest is history.

              I’m a huge fan of Gove’s but he does sometime overplay his hand. As pretty much everyone who knows him agrees with.

  • Kitty MLB

    Poor beautiful statuesque but empty Tristram quite lost without his Iseut.
    Maybe he should elope with Cleggie and blend sure start with the pupil premium
    and have beautiful children together….

    • telemachus

      I worry about you
      The bad boy here was Gove
      Not only is he an educational social Darwinist but he truly could not care about the totality of education which starts at weaning
      I Tower Hamlets there are toddlers who this winter who were not only cold through lack of heating but nutritionally deficient as the food banks struggled to keep up with the hunger in this deprived area
      There is plenty of evidence linking this nutritional deprivation to stunted educational performance
      But why should Gove care – it is H E A L T H – for gods sake
      Not my patch

      • post_x_it

        Yes, good point. Perhaps you’d like to give a ring to Saint Lutfur and ask him if wouldn’t mind doing something about the corruption in his rotten administration so that some funding can actually go where it’s most needed in his borough?

      • Alexsandr

        you must have been nutritionally deprived in childhood to be able to post the cobblers you do. why not do something useful – go get a job shelf stacking in Morrisons.

        • telemachus

          Each and every one of us has a duty to police and reverse the damage to our children being perpetrated by Gove

          • grammarschoolman

            You mean actually teaching them things? My God, that would be damaging, wouldn’t it?

      • Kitty MLB

        Well yeh know how it goes. Evil Tories
        keep em undernourished to they fit up ter
        chimney easier.

      • Colonel Mustard

        You haven’t got a clue what Gove is really about and just repeat your usual lies about him.

        Smearing, lies and negativity. That’s all you and your miserable party can offer.

        You are an abomination.