Coffee House

Michael Gove and the Ship of Fools

13 June 2014

13 June 2014

It lies rigged and fully masted in the harbour, the Ship of Fools, and soon it will be crewed by some of our favourite smarties. Is that Shami Chakrabarti charging down the gangway? It surely is. Those sharp elbows can be identified at a hundred paces. And is she being followed by Hanif Kureishi and Jeanette Winterson, eyes bulging like bulldog’s whatsits? Yes, they’re on parade too. Oh look, they’ve brought a chaplain, the Rev Giles Fraser. All shipshape and Bristol-fashion. Now they can cast off.

If a person may be judged by the quality of his enemies then Michael Gove currently rests only slightly lower than the angels. As hard as they try to paint him black the metropolitan progressives led by Chakrabarti and pals, who were invited by the ever-obliging Guardian to present a personal selection of set-book lists for GCSE pupils, merely reveal in their denunciations of the Education Secretary their own worst failings.

Should you require evidence of the shrill, hectoring nature of the modern liberal mind, Miss Chakrabarti supplies it in her estimation of To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel by Harper Lee that Gove has not, despite the contrived hoo-ha of the last month, banned from any classroom. The book, she writes with the moral fervour that has made her the nation’s sweetheart, ‘has inspired so many towards the cause of human rights, no wonder the government wants it off the syllabus’.

For Little Miss Bossy-Boots, Lee’s book is a shoe-in selection because it concerns ‘issues of gender, religious belief and bigotry’, a triple hit that sets the tone for what follows later from the Angry Brigade. Kureishi, an infant terrible who has not aged well, chooses a book of his own, which offers ‘an ideal introduction to our present concerns about religion and the limits of free speech’. When – if – he acquires a degree of modesty the world will become at once a sweeter place.

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For self-regard, though, Winterson could probably give Hanif Bighead five yards and still breast the tape ahead of him. ‘Gove’, she believes, ‘should be prosecuted for depriving children of essential services. The Tories want a future where literature belongs to an elite’. This sort of drivel will surprise few who have heard Winterson on radio and television, where she is one of the BBC’s favourite pets. Why on earth is this censorious woman always in a frightful bate?

They are supported by a cast that includes ‘Will Self’, one of Craig Brown’s more fanciful creations, and somebody called Bernardine Evaristo, who has really scaled the heights: she is, apparently, a reader in creative writing at Brunel University, whence she shall judge the quick and the dead. O lucky Brunel students! All year long they get their groats-worth from a tutor who writes freely about ‘a western canon that privileges the select few over the many’.

Fortunately Hilary Mantel was on hand, to remind everybody that children are best served by ‘a love of reading, and the habit of it’. Which is what Gove wants for all children, irrespective of sex (not gender), age, class or ethnicity. If writers, who are supposed to value words, cannot understand that, what can they understand? Sadly, many of them are not prepared to give him a fair hearing. They would prefer to trot out their own prejudices. Rev Fraser, who has stepped enthusiastically into a media career completely unnerved by a lack of talent, felt bold enough in another part of the Guardian to denounce the Minister for his ‘religious extremism’. What extremism would that be, parson?

Dominant narratives. Inclusive stories. Political issues. All cultures, great and small. ‘Nightmare marriages of sex, death and technology’ (Self, who else?). Even Margaret Drabble threw in the four-pronged cliche of colonialism, racism, feminism and Thatcherism. Do these earnest folk not realize that children should be encouraged to read for pleasure, and by doing so learn to chart their own path through the literary forest?

That forest, contrary to what the dizzy Brunel lady imagines, is not restricted to a few men and women who have been admitted to the canon. It is a world that contains multitudes, as Gove appears to know rather better than those who rejoice in belittling him. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to read Of Mice and Men. It’s a fine novel by a great writer. But Steinbeck wrote better books, and so did many others.

A personal list of set books might include The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Housman’s Collected Poems, Orwell’s Inside The Whale and other essays, and Loitering with Intent by Muriel Spark. Not a cliche in sight. But plenty of scope for liberation.


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Show comments
  • Liz

    Your female insults:
    Little Miss Bossy Boots
    Censorious woman
    Brunel lady

    Your male insults:
    Infant terrible
    Big head
    Parson
    Self, who else.

    Notice the difference? For the women, you keep mentioning their s*x. And you tacked on the sexist shrill and the pervy breast. You sir, are a sexist.

    • saffrin

      What’s for dinner love?

      • bengeo

        Careful now, don’t get your jock-strap in a twist.

      • Liz

        Another one. Like buses.

  • Liz

    “Rev Fraser, who has stepped enthusiastically into a media career completely unnerved by a lack of talent”

    I think you mean, uninhibited.

  • Damaris Tighe

    What will it take for these bien pensent ideologues to realise that those they favour with their ‘inclusion’ will exclude them if they come to power, & cast all their favoured causes – women, gays, permissiveness – into the dustbin of history.

  • Nick Harman

    ‘Rev Fraser, who has stepped enthusiastically into a media career completely unnerved by a lack of talent, ‘

    He’s not unnerved is he? Quite the opposite.

  • grammarschoolman

    Kureishi, it should be noted, was so concerned to improve state education that he sent both his sons to a very expensive private school, where they got precisely the broad education in English literature that Gove proposes, and which was absent from his local schools in Shepherd’s Bush. (I know: I taught them.)

    P.S. I was also interested to read in the aftermath of his death that that well-known radical, anti-Tory and anti-fascist Rik Mayall (RIP), sent all his kids to The Harrodian, one of the poshest and most exclusive private schools in London. One rule for you, Hanif and Rik, another for the rest, eh?

  • flexdream

    Why even have Eng Lit as a subject? I suspect it puts people off reading with its obsession with worthy titles which adults think kids should read. Just have reading time.

  • Mike Power

    Bloody education! It’s “shoo-in” by the way.

  • Chris Kimberley

    I’m amazed at all this praise for Gove, the man has alienated teachers, parents, voters, Ofsted, civil servants and guardianistas aplenty but all thats done is make the DfE even more of a clusterfudge.
    His obsession with carrying on Tony Blair’s academy and faith school programme will leave us with a fractured education system and an even more divided society.

    • HookesLaw

      No it won’t

      • Wessex Man

        very profound of you Hooky babe!

  • Kitty MLB

    The excellent Michael Gove needs to take no advice from the caterwauling dullards
    from the Guardian or indeed any part of the Leftie establishment.
    Advice from Hilary Mantel should always be listened to, Children are indeed best served with love of reading, a little spark needs to be lit and nurtured.
    May I also suggest , the secret garden. Also collected poems by TS Eliot, anything
    from Milne. More English authors in general .

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      Edith Nesbit for me. Oh how she allowed me to dream!

  • victor67

    The problem with Gove is that he is absolutely fascinated and besotted with himself. A classic high functioning narcissist who struggles to get on with his colleagues. Oh why do they not realise I can never be wrong on anything
    He has come unstuck and shown his prejudice with the Trojan horse myth(reds under the bed and WMD revisited). He is all for faith schools apart from Muslim schools.

    • HookesLaw

      How do you know all that, have you met him or spoken to anyone who has?

      • victor67

        The evidence is compelling. Messianic tendencies, bust up with colleagues, subcontracting bullying to the thug Cummings while presenting himself as a “decent bloke”.
        True, such pathologies are common in politicians Blair and Obama are good examples as well, but Gove is in a different league.

        • Rhoda Klapp8

          How wonderful, psychiatric diagnoses without the trouble of even seeing the patient. Can’t bill much of a fee though, I suspect.

          • victor67

            While Gove maybe right on some issues relating to education, my sense is his rigid ideological world view would make him a very dangerous leader. Intelligence alone is not enough for good leadership.

            • Frank

              Victor, interesting that you think Gove is a nut-job, whilst I see him as one of the few sane politicians and remarkably free from the acute narcissism that afflicts so many. Time will show which of us is right.

              • Wessex Man

                I suppose that makes me and you nut-jobs as well then.

  • DaveTheRave

    I hate to sound old fashioned but every new idea seems to make educational standards worse.
    There are kids going to secondary school ‘proving’ they can read and write, yet in lots of cases the reality doesn’t stack up. There is too much ‘seeming’ and not enough ‘being’.
    Yes, the old chestnut is that my dad left school at 13, was extremely good at maths and had a writing style like calligraphy… and he could spell. Maybe he was a genius like Shakespeare, learnt by osmosis.

  • JoeDM

    Gove has been the most effective of all the Cabinet Ministers in this Government.

  • ohforheavensake

    On the other hand, it’s not just people who can write who hate Gove. Most of the rest of the country hates him too-

    http://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/02/10/michael-gove-poor-marks/

    • Andy

      Which goes to show he is dong the right thing. More power to his elbow.

    • Ooh!MePurse!

      The teaching unions hate Give with an absolute passion. That makes him my absolute hero!

      • Andy

        It does indeed. Any one they hate and anything they dislike is bound to be right. If we want to improve education we should start by destroying the teaching unions.

        • Ooh!MePurse!

          Absolutely. Are you a teacher too?

          • Andy

            Certainly not. I work for a living ! I pay your wages.

            • Ooh!MePurse!

              Oi! I work bloody hard! I educate your children. If we met I doubt if we would argue. I worked in the private sector for 12 years so I’m not afraid of hard work.

              • Andy

                Ah a proper teacher.

                • Ooh!MePurse!

                  I certainly hope so and I never forget who pays my wages. I frequently remind my pupils too, it usually has the desired effect when they realize that their parents are paying.

          • grammarschoolman

            I am, though, and I hate the teaching unions.

      • Kitty MLB

        Michael Gove that enigmatic reformer has certainly rocked the world
        of the status quo and they as you say hate him with passion.
        Just because this education secretary happens to be on the side of the
        children. Instead of their cosy little elitist club.
        Whatever next, children nurtured to reach their full potential! those
        teaching unions must be crying in their cornflakes every morning.

        • Ooh!MePurse!

          And that’s the main thing, Kitty, on the side of children who want to learn and flourish and fly. Historians, plumbers, doctors, nurses, authors or car mechanics. I thank my lucky stars that I’m a teacher as I can help them fly. The unions only care about working hours and restrictive edicts. Dullards, all!

        • bengeo

          Academies and Free Schools with no core curriculum and 30% of the teachers unqualified?

    • Colonel Mustard

      Something very fishy about that poll. But even so it is not actually about ‘hating’ Gove.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    More enlightening to ask this motley crew what they read as schoolchildren. This would give a set of books likely to make your own kid turn out like that. Which would be useful and informative.

    • P_S_W

      What a good idea.

  • ButcombeMan

    Nice article. a very enjoyable read.

    These people you name are so predictable.

  • Anne Fetherston

    It’s “shoo-in” Michael, not “shoe…” . Read Damon Runyon.

  • Andy

    I hope the bloody thing sinks, with the loss of all hands.

    Actually lets open a fund to buy a few torpedoes.

  • P_S_W

    Although I read To Kill A Mockingbird at school back in the 80’s, and yes it was rather good, I haven’t read many of the classics at all. I do have a love of reading, but I suspect my literary taste would be sneered at by the great and the good listed above.

    Reading should not be a chore or about reading those books that other believe are important, it’s about developing your own tastes.

    • Kitty MLB

      No one should sneer at your literary choice P- S- W ( you don’t remember me
      from elsewhere) Variety is the spice of life.
      Agree, reading should never be a chore, it should feel you with delight and
      make those little grey cells sparkle.
      And those who write books have a responsibility to open up the imagination,
      for the imagination is what gives the human soul wings and allows it to fly,
      very important for children.

      • P_S_W

        I do remember you from elsewhere, Kitty. You may have missed it but I did apologise for overstepping the mark with you. Forgive me?

        • Kitty MLB

          Of course I do, you dear man. Oh by the way take no notice of
          Telemachus ( the wasp) we all know that Michael Gove is exceptionally brilliant but the little wasp thinks beautiful but
          dim as a statue Tristram Hunt knows what is best for the countries children. So very odd !

          • telemachus

            More Besottation

            • Kitty MLB

              You really are a little wasp buzzing around,
              or maybe hovering about..I am always surprised
              how quickly you turn up..Do you have the threads bugged ?

              • ButcombeMan

                He has nothing else to do other than collect his Giro

                • telemachus

                  .telemachus probably pays enough tax to pay the pensions of yourself and all who live round your home counties village green

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Buy some shoes for those kids in Tower Hamlets then!

                • saffrin

                  NuLabour.

          • Bernard from Bucks

            I’m beginning to think there are more of us over here, than there are over there on ‘elsewhere’?

          • P_S_W

            Well if nothing else, the presence of dear Tristram will stop the class war nonsense.

            • telemachus

              Tristram is a classic example of Noblesse Oblige
              He could give ‘resources for us and ours’ Oborne a lesson or two

              • P_S_W

                I’m guessing that epithet only applies to those on the Labour side of the house in your opinion?

              • Colonel Mustard

                You’d have giant portraits of Labour party figures on buildings across London, festooned with red flags.

                • telemachus

                  I had not hitherto considered that
                  *
                  You mean as an antidote to further racist Ukip billboards

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Hu Ping referred to the “Party’s dominion over the entire country” and the CCP “riding herd” on Chinese society, something which the Labour party likes to do if it can and the imperative for which is usefully confirmed by the sort of comments you make here.

                  You might think it amusing to write in a flippant and provocative manner about a single party state but your many comments reveal a deep and dangerous predilection for that end. Your taste for conformity to be achieved by coercion is nothing short of sinister. It is also disrespectful towards those many millions who have been and are still being persecuted, tortured and murdered by the type of states you appear to admire and seem to wish to replicate here.

                  I don’t find your flippancy towards the subject amusing in the least. It is repulsive.

      • telemachus

        You are right Ladybird

        We must not pooh pooh literary gems from whatever source

        Witness this elegance from William Morris

        *

        Ah! such are the days that shall be! But what are the deeds of to-day,
        In the days of the years we dwell in, that wear our lives away?

        Why, then, and for what are we waiting? There are three words to speak:
        WE WILL IT, and what is the foeman but the dream-strong wakened and weak?

        O why and for what are we waiting? While our brothers droop and die,
        And on every wind of the heavens a wasted life goes by.

        How long shall they reproach us where crowd on crowd they dwell,
        Poor ghosts of the wicked city, the gold-crushed hungry h*ll?

        Through squalid life they laboured, in sordid grief they died,
        Those sons of a mighty mother, those props of England’s pride.

        • Andy

          William Morris ? For God Sake, that old fake. He was a champagne socialist and reactionary. He wasn’t even a particularly good designer – Dr Christopher Dresser was better and he was an industrial designer making things the working class could afford to buy unlike Morris.

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh please little wasp, no more ! Hardly Larkin was he?
          I hope you liked my rewording of Blake’s Rose that I rewritten
          just for the Labour Party.. that I posted here once, it was very suitable.

          • Wessex Man

            missed it could you reprint.

            • telemachus

              Do not encourage her
              We have had a plague of ladybirds this summer

              • saffrin

                That explains your attitude towards open door mass immigration then.
                Plagues of Ladybirds only happen in the countryside, far away from your paki infested, terrorist insurgent schools and inner city mosques.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Better a plague of ladybirds than a plague of the deadly (boring) telemachus virus at the Spectator which breaks out on almost every thread in ugly red comments, poisonous to read and often causing a rise in blood pressure but essentially more damaging to the health and prospects of the Labour party.

              • Kitty MLB

                How can Ladybirds be compared to the plague.
                I wonder about you wasp !

          • Colonel Mustard

            A rose with poisonous thorns for the unwary and a foul scent.

  • Smithersjones2013

    The Guardian is a perverse mix of misery and madness. An dark comic to commit suicide by

    • JoeDM

      And dangerous when it comes to its support for islamic extremsits !!!

    • The Red Bladder

      I feel compelled to ask why you buy it?

      • Shorne

        You don’t think these people actually read the papers etc. they rave against do you?

        • The Red Bladder

          I suppose not – get their facts from the opinions of others then?

  • Alexsandr

    why dont we just ignore these shrill buffoons. No-one reads the Guardian now so they can spill their PC bile to the liberal elite and the rest of us can carry on regardless.

    • you_kid

      Why not just ignore these shrill buffoons. No one reads the Gove bible now anyway so they can spill their common sense-ism waffle and the rest of us can carry on with the relaunch of the carry on series starring Michael (Green) Gove as Kenneth Williams, Eric (you are having a laugh) Pickles as Sid James and as special guest on a one off, (Mother) Theresa May as Joan Sims.

      • Wessex Man

        you are an idiot.

    • balance_and_reason

      They are on salaries

    • Shorne

      “No-one reads the Guardian now”
      UK Press Gazette figures – The Guardian and The Observer combined print and website readership = 5,257,000

      Same figures for The Times and The Sunday Times = 4,525,000
      Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph = 4,899,000

      • MirthaTidville

        I think what he means is no one intelligent reads the Grauniad…Anyways if the figures are so healthy how come said publications are losing huge quantities of money??

        • Shorne

          He didn’t mean that at all and you know it.

      • Alexsandr

        figures here
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_newspapers_in_the_United_Kingdom_by_circulation#Circulations_2010_to_present

        I dont think the web hits are the same as paper copies bought. People read the web editions differently from a hard copy I read the off guardian article, usually when linked by another site, but that would be a readership ‘1’ in your stats.

        • Andy

          And The Times and Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph are behind ‘paywalls’ of different sorts. As far as I know the Fascist Guardian is not. The print edition hardly sells at all.

          • telemachus

            Do not bdenigrate the Guardian on these hallowed pages. Fraser accords considerable respect to the organ
            *
            http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/09/guardian-ceo-the-newspaper-cant-survive-in-the-uk/
            *
            Even if one of the revanchist posters on that thread does not
            *

            “The Guardian’s history was not ‘socialist’ it was founded by a cotton merchant and other businessmen who had a non conformist ‘liberal’ outlook. It could almost be said to represent Victorian Values.

            Its love affair with left of the left socialism is relatively recent. Arguably its circulation shows this.”
            But Frasers text showed him to be wrong
            *

            “The Guardian has never been more successful: it is the no3 most-read newspaper in the world amongst people who don’t pay.”

            • Colonel Mustard

              Go and comment at the Guardian then. Your dominion of and “riding herd” on this website won’t be missed.

            • Andy

              Well sod off to the Fascist Guardian. That is where you belong – scum along with scum.

        • Colonel Mustard

          And in any case the readership does not imply agreement with the paper’s editorial line. The comments on articles demonstrate that (although the Guardian seems to do more censoring of “unreconstructed” opinions).

          Plenty of people are drawn to Guardian articles from ‘right wing’ links just as several lefties regularly post comments here at a supposedly conservative magazine.

          April 2014 circulation figures show the Guardian at a paltry 191,717, a measly 0.29% of the population and no doubt including those only looking for taxpayer funded rent seeking jobs, whereas the Daily Mail circulation was 1,721,589 or 2.65% of the population.

          Unfortunately the narrative of this country is dominated by the minority media.

        • Shorne

          They are not ‘my’ stats the are from the UKPG and, unlike the wikipedia stats they include on-line readership. Anyway these days I only buy a print newspaper if we have run out of freesheets to put under the pets’ feeding bowls.

        • Kennybhoy

          Indeed. The web gives us the ability to see what the other side is saying and thinking without paying fot it.

      • whs1954

        You’re including web hits? Out of that Guardian figures, at least 2 million people are going on Comment is “Free” (sic) make comments to wind up the po-faced left, and a further million to make comments that wind them up so much the moderator has to delete them.

        • Shorne

          Of course I include web hits as whoever they are from they show potential advertisers it’s worth advertising in the Guardian so keep it up UKIPers and the rest of the frothing at the mouth reactionary trolls.

    • Wessex Man

      Too dangerous to ignore them, look what has happened to the Schools in Birmingham and probably in every major city! the Islamic Fanatics aided and approved by the liberal elite that have dominated the state since the late 1960s need to be stopped not ignored!

      • Kennybhoy

        Amen.

        The left-liberal consensus is an organized conspiracy to corrupt. Every totalitarian project understand that you have to catch em’ young…

    • Kennybhoy

      Why the fuck has this idiotic comment got 78 up votes and Wessex’s 13?

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