Michael Gove

The Right Honourable
Michael Gove
Secretary of State for Justice
Lord Chancellor
In office
9 May 2015  13 July 2016
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Chris Grayling
Succeeded by Liz Truss
Chief Whip of the House of Commons
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
In office
15 July 2014  9 May 2015
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by George Young
Succeeded by Mark Harper
Secretary of State for Education
In office
12 May 2010  15 July 2014
Prime Minister David Cameron
Preceded by Ed Balls (Children, Schools and Families)
Succeeded by Nicky Morgan
Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families
In office
2 July 2007  11 May 2010
Leader David Cameron
Preceded by David Willetts (Education and Skills)
Succeeded by Ed Balls (Education)
Member of Parliament
for Surrey Heath
Assumed office
5 May 2005
Preceded by Nick Hawkins
Majority 24,804 (45.6%)
Personal details
Born Graham
(1967-08-26) 26 August 1967
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Sarah Vine (2001–present)
Children 2
Alma mater Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
Religion Presbyterianism
Gove's voice
from the BBC programme Start the Week, 30 December 2013[1]

Michael Andrew Gove[2] (/ˈɡv/; born 26 August 1967) is a British Conservative politician, who was Secretary of State for Education from 2010 to 2014 and Secretary of State for Justice from 2015 to 2016. He has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Surrey Heath since 2005. He is also an author and was a columnist for The Times.[3]

Born in Edinburgh, Gove was raised in Aberdeen and attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford,[4] after which he began his career as a journalist. He was first elected to the House of Commons in the 2005 election for the safe Conservative seat of Surrey Heath. He was appointed to the Shadow Cabinet by David Cameron in 2007 as Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

After the formation of the Coalition Government in 2010, Gove was appointed Secretary of State for Education.[5] Gove sought to expand the academies programme introduced by the previous Labour Government. At its 2013 conference, Gove was criticised by the National Association of Head Teachers, whose members condemned the "climate of bullying, fear and intimidation" they said he had created during his time as Education Secretary, and passed a vote of no confidence in his policies.[6] Votes of no confidence were also passed by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, National Union of Teachers and NASUWT at their conferences in 2013.[7]

In a 2014 Cabinet reshuffle, Gove was moved to the post of Chief Whip.[8][9] Following the 2015 election, Gove was promoted to the offices of Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice.

In 2016, Gove played a major role in the UK's referendum on EU membership as the co-convenor of Vote Leave[10] and along with Boris Johnson, became a key figurehead of the campaign.

On 30 June 2016, Gove, who was campaign manager for Boris Johnson's drive to become Prime Minister, withdrew his support on the morning that Johnson was due to declare, and announced his own candidacy in the leadership election. In the first round of voting, Gove came third to Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom.[11] He was eliminated from the leadership race on the second ballot on 7 July 2016.[12] Following her appointment as Prime Minister, May did not appoint him to the Cabinet on 14 July 2016, and he was succeeded as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice by Liz Truss.[13]

Early life and career outside Parliament

Gove was born in Edinburgh and named Graham by his mother;[14] at four months old, he was adopted by a Labour-supporting family in Aberdeen, where he was brought up.[15] His adoptive father ran a fish processing business; his adoptive mother was a lab assistant at the University of Aberdeen before working at the Aberdeen School for the Deaf.[16]

In Aberdeen he was educated at a state school, and later attended the independent Robert Gordon's College, to which he had won a scholarship.[15] In October 2012, Gove wrote an apology letter to his former French teacher for misbehaving in class.[17]

From 1985 to 1988 he studied English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford,[18] where he served as President of the Oxford Union. He was awarded a 2:1-degree.[19]

Gove became a trainee reporter at the Press and Journal in Aberdeen, where he spent several months on strike in the 1989–1990 dispute over union recognition and representation.[20] He joined the The Times in 1996 as a leader writer and assumed posts as its comment editor, news editor, Saturday editor and assistant editor. He has also written a weekly column on politics and current affairs for the newspaper and contributed to The Times Literary Supplement, Prospect magazine and The Spectator. He remains on good terms with Rupert Murdoch,[3][21] whom Gove described in evidence before the Leveson Inquiry as "one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years".[22] He has also written a sympathetic biography of Michael Portillo and a critical study of the Northern Ireland peace process, The Price of Peace, for which he won the Charles Douglas-Home Prize.[18] He has worked for the BBC's Today programme, On The Record, Scottish Television and the Channel 4 current affairs programme A Stab in the Dark, alongside David Baddiel and Tracey MacLeod, and was a regular panellist on BBC Radio 4's The Moral Maze and Newsnight Review on BBC Two.[16][23][24]

Gove was a member of the winning team in Grampian Television's quiz show Top Club,[25] and played the school chaplain in the 1995 family comedy A Feast at Midnight.[26][27]

Political career

Gove outside the Palace of Westminster, December 2008

Gove joined the Oxford University Conservative Association and was secretary of Aberdeen South Young Conservatives.[28] He helped to write speeches for Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet ministers, including Peter Lilley and Michael Howard.[29] When applying for a job at the Conservative Research Department he was told he was "insufficiently political" and "insufficiently Conservative", so he turned to journalism.[30]

Gove had been chairman of Policy Exchange, a conservative think tank launched in 2002.[31][32] He was involved in founding the right-leaning magazine Standpoint, to which he occasionally contributes.[33]

Member of Parliament

Gove speaking at the Conservative Party "Big Society, Not Big Government" policy launch

Gove entered the House of Commons after the 2005 general election having been elected as the Conservative member of parliament for the seat of Surrey Heath, after the incumbent MP Nick Hawkins was deselected by the local Conservative Association.[34][35] When Cameron was elected as party leader in December 2005, he appointed Gove as shadow housing spokesman.[36] Gove is seen as part of an influential set of Tories, sometimes referred to as the Notting Hill Set, which includes David Cameron, George Osborne, Edward Vaizey, Nicholas Boles and Rachel Whetstone.[37]

On 2 July 2007, Gove was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (a newly created department set up by Gordon Brown), shadowing Ed Balls. Before the 2010 general election, most of Gove's questions in Commons debates concerned children, schools and families, education, local government, council tax, foreign affairs, and the environment.[38]

Michael Portillo said in June 2012 that Gove could be a serious contender in a future race for the Conservative leadership,[39] though Gove had said in an interview a few months before that "I'm constitutionally incapable of it. There's a special extra quality you need that is indefinable, and I know I don't have it. There's an equanimity, an impermeability and a courage that you need. There are some things in life you know it's better not to try."[40]

Secretary of State for Education

Gove as Secretary of State for Education, c. 2012

With the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government after the May 2010 general election, Gove became Secretary of State for Education. His first moves included reorganising his department,[41] announcing plans to allow schools rated as "outstanding" by Ofsted to become academies,[42] and cutting the previous government's school-building programme.[43] He was forced to apologise, however, when the list of terminated school-building projects he had released was found to be inaccurate. The list was reannounced several times before it was finally accurately published.[44]

In July 2010, Gove said that Labour had failed in its attempt to break the link between social class and school achievement despite spending billions of pounds: quoting research, he indicated that by the age of 6, children of low ability from affluent homes were still out-performing brighter children from poor backgrounds. At a House of Commons Education Select Committee he said that this separation of achievement grew larger throughout pupils' school careers, stating, "In effect, rich thick kids do better than poor clever children when they arrive at school [and] the situation as they go through gets worse".[45]

Building Schools for the Future and school capital projects

In February 2011 a judicial review deemed Gove's decision to axe Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects in six local authority areas was unlawful as he had failed to consult before imposing the cuts.[46] The judge also said that, in five of the cases, the failure was "so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power" and that "however pressing the economic problems, there was no overriding public interest which precluded consultation or justifies the lack of any consultation".[46] The councils' response was that the government would have to reconsider but the government said it had won the case on the substantial issues.[46] The judge made clear that, contrary to the councils' position, they could not expect that their projects would be funded.[46]

In March 2011 Gove was criticised for not understanding the importance of school architecture and having misrepresented the cost.[47] In February 2011, he gave "not-quite-true information to Parliament" by saying that one individual made £1m in one year when the true figure was £700k for five advisers at different times over a four-year period.[47] He told a Free schools conference that "no one in this room is here to make architects richer" and specifically mentioned architect Richard Rogers.[48]

Exam and curriculum reforms

Gove's views on exam systems became clear in December 2014 after the release of archive papers from 1986. GCSEs were the brainchild of Sir Keith Joseph, and Margaret Thatcher, believing they lacked rigour, fiercely opposed them. However opposition to the new exams from the teaching unions persuaded her to introduce them immediately, purely so as not to appear weak. Although Gove had sought but failed to replace them, his special advisor, Dominic Cummings, described the 1986 decision as catastrophic, leading to a collapse in the integrity of the exam system.[49]

During the 2010 Conservative Party Conference, Gove announced that the primary and secondary-school national curricula for England would be restructured, and that study of authors such as Byron, Keats, Jane Austen, Dickens and Thomas Hardy would be reinstated in English lessons as part of a plan to improve children's grasp of English literature and language. Academies are not required to follow the national curriculum, and so would not be affected by the reforms. Children who fail to write coherently and grammatically, and who are weak in spelling, would be penalised under new examinations. Historian Simon Schama would give advice to government to ensure that pupils learnt Britain's "island story". Standards in mathematics and science would also be strengthened. He claimed that this was needed because left-wing ideologues had undermined education. Theirs was the view, he thought, that schools "shouldn't be doing anything so old-fashioned as passing on knowledge, requiring children to work hard, or immersing them in anything like dates in history or times tables in mathematics. These ideologues may have been inspired by generous ideals but the result of their approach has been countless children condemned to a prison house of ignorance".[50]

In a November 2010 white paper, Gove declared reforms would include the compulsory study of foreign languages up to the age of 16, and a shake-up of league tables in which schools are ranked higher for the number of pupils taking GCSEs[51] in five core subjects: English; mathematics; science; a language; and one of the humanities. He also announced that experts such as historian Simon Schama will be brought in to review the curriculum, and that targets are to be introduced for primary schools for the first time. Additionally, trainee teachers will spend more time in the classroom, there would be more assessment of teacher training applicants—including tests of character and emotional intelligence—and former troops will be offered sponsorship to retrain as teachers to improve discipline. Teachers are also expected to receive guidance on how to search pupils for more items, including mobile phones and pornography, and when they can use force.[52]

Gove, as Education Secretary, at Chantry High School, Ipswich

In April 2011 Gove criticised schools for not studying pre-20th century classics and blamed "England's constricted and unreformed exam system" for failing to encourage children to read. Gove also blamed an "anti-knowledge culture" for reducing achievement and said children benefited when expectations were set higher.[53] In June 2011 his "ignorance of science" was criticised after he called for students to have "a rooting in the basic scientific principles" and by way of example assigned Lord Kelvin's laws of thermodynamics to Sir Isaac Newton.[54]

In June 2012, the Daily Mail published leaked plans to scrap GCSE examinations, return to O-level exams and allow less able students to take less academic qualifications. The Liberal Democrats claimed that the plans had not been discussed with the Deputy Prime Minister and were subsequently heavily criticised by some teachers, trade unions and Labour Party MPs;[55][56][57] they had been discussed with the Prime Minister at Cabinet level, and a subsequent YouGov/Sunday Times poll suggested that the public supported this policy by a margin of 50% to 32%.[58][59] They also received praise from the Mayor Boris Johnson, who said that he "could be...singing a hymn of praises for my old chum Gove and his brilliant new Gove-levels."[60] The leaked documents also suggested that Gove was intending to create a single exam board to organise all exams, and to scrap the National Curriculum in its current form. However, there were "rebukes" from both the Welsh and Northern Ireland Education ministers who said it was important to communicate before making announcements on proposed changes to jointly owned qualifications.[61]

In February 2013, shortly after the draft Programmes of Study for History in the national curriculum was released by the DfE,[62] the representatives of the principal organisations for historians in the UK wrote to the The Observer to register "significant reservations" about its contents and the way in which it had been devised.[63] In March 2013, 100 academics wrote to "warn of the dangers posed by Michael Gove's new National Curriculum".[64] Gove retorted that "there is good academia and bad academia."[65] His closest advisers are known to have mottoes like "purges work".[22] In response, one signatory to the letter opined that Gove suffered from a "blinkered, almost messianic, self-belief, which appears to have continually ignored the expertise and wisdom of teachers, head-teachers, advisers and academics, whom he often claims to have consulted",[66] while one of the country's leading education experts and the person who headed up the biggest review of British primary education in 40 years, Cambridge's Robin Alexander, declared: "It's surely proper to ask whether heaping abuse on members of the electorate because they hold different views is what government in a democracy is about."[67] A senior civil servant then admitted that one of the most controversial parts of the proposed secondary curriculum had been written internally by the DfE, without any input from experts.[68] In May, Simon Schama, earlier mooted as a supporter of Gove's reforms of the history curriculum, delivered an excoriating speech in which he characterised the finalised proposals as "insulting and offensive" and "pedantic and utopian", accusing Gove of constructing a "ridiculous shopping list" of subjects. He urged the audience at the Hay Festival: "Tell Michael Gove what you think of it. Let him know."[69] In June, leaked documents revealed that a member of the government's curriculum advisory group had described the reform process as having had "a very chaotic feel. It's typical of government policy at the moment: they don't think things through very carefully, they don't listen to anyone and then just go ahead and rush into major changes."[70] In September, Robin Alexander said that the proposed reforms to the primary-level national curriculum were "neo Victorian", "educationally inappropriate and pedagogically counter-productive".[71] In October almost 200 people, including Carol Ann Duffy, Melvin Burgess and Michael Rosen, as well as academics from Oxford, Bristol and Newcastle signed a letter to The Times condemning Gove's reforms, warning of the "enormous" and negative risks they posed to children and their education.[72] The same month saw Oxford's head of admissions warn that the timetable for secondary-level reforms would "just wreck the English education system."[73]

2012 English GCSE results

In September 2012, following the furore surrounding the downgrading of GCSE English results, he refused[74] to instruct Ofqual to intervene, and attacked his Welsh counterpart as "irresponsible and mistaken" for ordering disputed GCSEs to be regraded.[75] On 17 September he announced to the House of Commons an English Baccalaureate Certificate to replace GCSE, comprising English, Maths, Science, together with a Humanities subject and language, to be first examined in 2017. His plans to replace GCSE examinations with an English Baccalaureate were rejected by Parliament in February 2013.[76]

Education vouchers

As Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Gove advocated the introduction of a Swedish-style voucher system, whereby parents can choose where their child should be educated, with the state paying what they would have cost in a state-school. He has also advocated Swedish-style free schools, to be managed by parents and funded by the State,[77] with the possibility that such schools may be allowed to be run on a for-profit model.[78]

Creationist schools

In June 2012, Gove approved three creationist schools, such as Grindon Hall Christian School in Sunderland,[79] which opened in September 2012. This led to concerns about whether Department for Education (DfE) requirements not to teach creationism or intelligent design as science would be met.[80] The other creationist schools included Exemplar-Newark Business Academy, whose previous application was rejected because of concerns over creationism, and a third school in Kent. Both of these schools said they would teach creationism in RE but not in Science.[80] The British Humanist Association (BHA) said teaching creationism in any syllabus was unacceptable.[80] In 2014, Gove's department acceded to the BHA's campaign by banning creationism from being taught as science in state-funded English schools, including Academies and Free Schools, as well as introducing a requirement that such schools must teach evolution.[81]

Children's homes scandal and data protection rules

In September 2013 news that the DfE did not maintain a register of children's homes in the UK came to light as a result of an article Gove wrote for The Daily Telegraph. Gove asserted his prior ignorance and surprise that the department did not hold this information and claimed that "Ofsted was prevented by 'data protection' rules, 'child protection' concerns and other bewildering regulations from sharing that data with us, or even with the police".[82]

Gove's claim was refuted the same day by the Information Commissioner, Sir Christopher Graham, who pointed out there was "nothing" in data protection legislation that prevents vulnerable young people from being properly protected in care homes. Graham noted that "[t]his law covers information about people so it has no bearing on the disclosure of non-personal information like the location of care homes", and said he would be writing to both Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw about the matter.[83]

Birmingham schools row

In June 2014, a very public argument arose between the Home Office and Department for Education Ministers about responsibility for alleged extremism in Birmingham schools,[84][85] which required PM David Cameron's intervention to resolve.[86] The Prime Minister asked Gove to apologise to Home Office Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism Head Charles Farr for briefings critical of him which appeared on The Times front page.[87]

Criticism from the teaching profession

Gove was criticised by teaching professionals for his attempts to overhaul British education.

At the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) Annual Conference in March 2013 a motion of no-confidence in Gove was passed.[88] This was followed up the next month at the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), who unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in Gove, the first time in its history that it performed such an action, and called for his resignation. The audience at the NUT conference were told that Gove had "lost the confidence of the teaching profession", "failed to conduct his duties in a manner befitting the head of a national education system", and "chosen to base policy on dogma, political rhetoric and his own limited experience of education."[7]

Gove was further criticised at the May 2013 conference of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), for what was said to have been a climate of bullying, fear and intimidation during his time as Education Secretary. The conference passed a vote of no confidence in his policies.[6]

Changes to pay, pensions, and workloads were also controversial. The NUT and NASUWT staged strikes on a regional basis in October 2013,[89][90] though a national strike was averted.[91] After talks failed,[92][93] strike action affecting 10,000 schools took place in March 2014.[94]

Before the coalition government, in 2010, a YouGov poll of teachers' voting intentions found that 33% were Tory and 32% were Labour; four years later, a poll found that only 16% were Tory and 57% were Labour.[22]


On 15 July 2014, Gove's four-year stint in charge of the Department for Education came to an end when he was replaced as Secretary of State for Education by former Treasury Minister Nicky Morgan in a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle and moved to the post of Government Chief Whip.[8] This was portrayed as a demotion by his detractors, although Prime Minister David Cameron denied this was the case.[9] Gove told BBC News that he had mixed emotions about starting the new role, saying it was a privilege to become Chief Whip but that leaving the Department for Education was “a wrench”.[95]

Government Chief Whip

Following Gove's appointment as Chief Whip in July 2014, his first day in office was marred by a defeat on an impromptu Opposition Ten Minute Rule Bill Division, at which time Gove was speaking to Labour backbencher Bill Esterson outside the toilets to the "Aye" lobby, prompting Shadow Commons Leader Angela Eagle to jibe that "he not only lost his first vote but he managed to get stuck in the toilet in the wrong lobby and he nearly broke his own whip".[96] New Leader of the House, William Hague, did not deny the incident took place, and light-heartedly defended Gove by stating to the House: "Knowledge of who is in the toilets in whatever Lobby is a very important piece of information for any Chief Whip and I take this as evidence that he was carrying out his duties very assiduously".[97]

Secretary of State for Justice

After the 2015 general election, Prime Minister David Cameron promoted Gove as Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary in his newly formed Cabinet.[98] He was praised in December 2015 for scrapping the courts fee introduced by his predecessor, Chris Grayling.[99] The fee had been heavily criticised for, among other things, causing innocent people to plead guilty out of financial concerns.[100] Gove also removed the 12-book limit on prison books introduced by Grayling, arguing that books increased literacy and numeracy, skills needed for making prisoners a "potential asset to society." The move, effective from September 2015, was welcomed by Frances Cook of the Howard League for Penal Reform.[101] Gove was also praised for his prominent role in scrapping a British bid for a Saudi prison contract.[102]

Within three months of his taking office, the Criminal Bar Association voted to stop taking new work in protest at Gove's insistence that they work for lower fees.[103] The CBA subsequently praised his "courage" in reversing the proposed cuts.[104] On 14 July 2016 Gove was removed from the position of Justice Secretary under the new Prime Minister Theresa May.[13]

Expenses claims

Over a five-month period between December 2005 and April 2006, Michael Gove claimed more than £7,000 on a house bought with his wife Sarah Vine, a journalist, in 2002. Around a third of the money was spent at OKA, an upmarket interior design company established by Viscountess Astor, PM David Cameron’s mother-in-law.[105] Shortly afterwards he reportedly 'flipped' his designated second home, a property for which he claimed around £13,000 to cover stamp duty.[106] Gove also claimed for a cot mattress, despite children's items being banned under updated Commons Rules. Gove said he would repay the claim for the cot mattress, but maintained that his other claims were "below the acceptable threshold costs for furniture" and that moving house was necessary "to effectively discharge my parliamentary duties".[106] While he was moving between homes, on one occasion he stayed at the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa following a constituency engagement, charging the taxpayer more than £500 per night's stay.[106]

Gove's second home was not in his constituency, but in Elstead, in the South West Surrey constituency. Gove has sold the house and now commutes to his constituency.[107]

Freedom of Information and email

Gove has been the subject of repeated criticism for alleged attempts to avoid the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The criticism surrounds Gove's use of various private email accounts to send emails that allegedly relate to his departmental responsibilities. The allegations suggest that Gove and his advisers believed they could avoid their correspondence being subject to Freedom of Information requests, as they believed that their private email accounts were not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. In September 2011, the Financial Times reported that Gove had used an undisclosed private email account – called "Mrs Blurt" – to discuss government business with advisers.[108][109] In March 2012 the Information Commissioner ruled that because emails the Financial Times had requested contained public information they could be the subject of a Freedom of Information request and ordered the information requested by the paper to be disclosed.[110][111] Gove was also advised to cease the practice of using private email accounts to conduct government business. Gove disputed the Information Commissioner's ruling and proceeded to tribunal, costing taxpayers £12,540 in fees for legal advice,[112] but the appeal was withdrawn.[113]

It was also alleged that Gove and his advisors had destroyed email correspondence in order to avoid Freedom of Information requests. The allegation was denied by Gove's department who stated that deleting email was simply part of good computer housekeeping.[114]

Candidate for Conservative Party leader

After David Cameron announced his intention to resign as Prime Minister, with his successor now likely to be in office by September 2016, Gove was not a candidate, having said in the past that he had no interest in becoming Prime Minister.[115] Instead, he was seen as a strong, highly influential supporter of Boris Johnson for that role. In a move that surprised most political analysts, Gove withdrew his support for Johnson on 30 June 2016, hours before the deadline, without any previous notice to Johnson and announced his own candidacy in the Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2016. Subsequently, Johnson declined to run.[116] The Daily Telegraph stated that Gove's actions in undermining Johnson's leadership aspirations constituted "the most spectacular political assassination in a generation"[117] while The Guardian labelled it as a "Machiavellian move".[118]

Gove said: "I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead. I have, therefore, decided to put my name forward for the leadership. I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take. Whatever the verdict of that debate I will respect it. In the next few days I will lay out my plan for the United Kingdom which I hope can provide unity and change."[119]

By 5 July 2016, Gove was in third place in the Conservative Party (UK) leadership election, 2016 behind Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom; the latter had gained an endorsement from Boris Johnson. Some political analysts predicted that Gove might quit the race if he was unable to beat Leadsom in the first round of voting.[120] Later that day, it was announced that Theresa May won the first round of voting, with support from 165 MPs, while Andrea Leadsom received 66 votes and Gove trailed with 48.[11]

Gove was eliminated in the second ballot after receiving only 46 votes, compared to 199 for Theresa May and 84 for Andrea Leadsom.[121] He subsequently told the media that he was "naturally disappointed" and described his two opponents as "formidable politicians", welcoming the fact that the next PM would be female. He also encouraged a "civilised, inclusive, positive and optimistic debate".[122]

Political views

Political philosophy

Gove is generally considered as combining socially liberal views—e.g. on gay marriage, race, and social mobility—with a harder Eurosceptic and neoconservative position on foreign affairs.[22] He has expressed his view that the state should generally not interfere in domestic affairs and attests to have campaigned for personal freedom in certain matters. He opposed the 2006 act to introduce identity cards and called Section 28 "a nonsense".[123] Gove has argued that "the only sustainable ethical foundation for society is a belief in the innate worth and dignity of every individual."[124] Giving evidence before the Leveson Inquiry in May 2012, Gove said he was "unashamedly on the side of those who say that we should think very carefully before legislation and regulation because the cry 'Something must be done' often leads to people doing something which isn't always wise."[125]

During the 2008 Conservative Party Conference, Gove argued that Edmund Burke, an 18th-century philosopher who commented on organic society and the French Revolution, was the greatest conservative ever. When asked about those who believe 'Marx was right all along', he responded that they were guilty of ignoring the systematic abuses and poverty of centrally planned economies, and criticised the historian Eric Hobsbawm, saying that "only when Hobsbawm weeps hot tears for a life spent serving an ideology of wickedness will he ever be worth listening to."[126]

Views on the EU

Gove described his decision to campaign for Britain to leave the EU in the EU referendum as "the most difficult decision of my political life".[127] He and his family spent Christmas with the Camerons at Chequers where, according to Craig Oliver, Cameron got the impression that Gove would support remaining in the EU.[128] He argued Britain would be "freer, fairer and better off" for leaving.[127] When in an interview it was claimed that there was no expert opinion to support this, Gove remarked that "the people of this country have had enough of experts from organizations with acronyms saying they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong." [129] However, interviewer Faisal Islam interrupted Gove after the word "experts",[130] causing some sources to report that he had made a general statement that "the people.. have had enough of experts".[131]
In October 2016, Bloomberg noted that sterling had performed worse post Brexit than even the Argentinian peso leading a Guardian editorial to record that whatever else happened, Gove and his fellow campaigners had earned a place in the record books by making sterling even weaker than after Black Wednesday or the collapse of RBS and HBOS.[132]

Views on the NHS

Gove is one of several Conservative MPs who co-authored Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party (2005).[133][134] The book says the NHS "fails to meet public expectations" and calls for it to be dismantled and replaced with personal health accounts.[133] Gove fractured his foot in July 2015. His wife Sarah Vine inaccurately complained in her Daily Mail column that he could not have his foot X-rayed by the NHS because the minor injuries unit the couple visited did not provide the facility at weekends.[135][136]

Foreign policy

The Financial Times describes Gove as having "strong neoconservative convictions".[22] He proposed that the invasion of Iraq would bring peace and democracy both to Iraq and the wider Middle East. In December 2008, he wrote that declarations of either victory or defeat in Iraq in 2003 were premature, and that the liberation of Iraq was a foreign policy success.

The liberation of Iraq has actually been that rarest of things – a proper British foreign policy success. Next year, while the world goes into recession, Iraq is likely to enjoy 10% GDP growth. Alone in the Arab Middle East, it is now a fully functioning democracy with a free press, properly contested elections and an independent judiciary ... Sunni and Shia contend for power in parliament, not in street battles. The ingenuity, idealism and intelligence of the Iraqi people can now find an outlet in a free society rather than being deployed, as they were for decades, simply to ensure survival in a fascist republic that stank of fear.[137]

Tariq Ali once recalled how, at the time of the Iraq War, he "debat[ed] the ghastly Gove on television [... and found him] worse than most Bush apologists in the United States."[138]

He had to be calmed down by parliamentary colleagues in August 2013 after shouting, "A disgrace, you're a disgrace!" at various Conservative and Liberal Democrat rebels who contributed to defeating the coalition government's motion to attack Syria in retaliation for the 2013 Ghouta attacks.[139] He later claimed he was reacting to the manner in which Labour MPs celebrated the outcome of the vote.[140]

Michael Gove has described himself as "a proud Zionist",[141] and supports the United Jewish Israel Appeal's fundraising activities.[142]

William Dalrymple, reviewing Gove's book Celsius 7/7 in The Times, dismisses Gove's knowledge of the Middle East as being derivative and based on the views of Bernard Lewis.[143] Gove distinguishes between "the great historical faith" of Islam, which he says has "brought spiritual nourishment to millions", and Islamism, a "totalitarian ideology" that turns to "hellish violence and oppression," likening Islamism to Nazism and Communism.[144]

In 2015, Gove cancelled a £5.9 million contract to provide services for prisons in Saudi Arabia, according to The Guardian, because it was thought "the British government should not be assisting a regime that uses beheadings, stoning, crucifixions and lashings as forms of punishment." Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond was reported to have accused Gove of being naive.[145]

Views on First World War centenary

In a controversial article about the First World War centenary in January 2014,[146] Gove attacked academic and television interpretations of World War I as "left-wing versions of the past designed to belittle Britain and its leaders."[147][148]

Some of Gove's key points were rebuffed by the academics that Gove had used to support his thesis. Gove had criticised Cambridge professor Sir Richard Evans saying his views were more like that of an undergraduate cynic in a Footlights review. Instead he urged people to listen to Margaret MacMillan of Oxford University. MacMillan responded, saying "I agree with some of what Mr Gove says, but he is mistaking myths for rival interpretations of history. I did not say, as Mr Gove suggests, that British soldiers in the First World War were consciously fighting for a western liberal order. They were just defending their homeland and fighting what they saw as German militarism."[149] Evans said Gove's attack was "ignorant" and asked how anyone could possibly say Britons were fighting for freedom given their country's main ally was Tsarist Russia.[150] Jeremy Paxman said Gove had "wilfully misquoted" Evans on the subject of the First World War.[151]

Capital punishment

In 1997, Gove wrote in support of bringing back hanging as capital punishment, which was abolished in the UK in 1965, although he has not repeated such views since. Writing in The Times, Gove argued "Were I ever alone in the dock I would not want to be arraigned before our flawed tribunals, knowing my freedom could be forfeit as a result of political pressures. I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose."[152]

Views on Tony Blair

In 2013, Gove stated that he was a "huge fan" of Tony Blair and considered himself an heir of the former Labour Prime minister.[153]

Other views

Gove's proposal for a new Royal Yacht costing £60 million was made public in January 2012.[154] Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticised the idea, calling it "a case of the haves and the have yachts".[155] Gove believes that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom, arguing that Scotland's strengths complement those of other parts of the UK.[156] He does not believe that the United States' "current position in the world is analogous to that of an Imperial power, as we have come to understand imperial powers".[157] While deeply critical of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, Gove believes that "there have also been more benign empires, and in that I would include, almost pre-eminently, the British."[157] In March 2014, he described the concentration of Old Etonians at the top of the Tory coalition as "ridiculous. I don't know where you can find a similar situation in any other developed economy."[22]

Religious views

Gove stated he was "Christian and proud of it" at a talk to pupils at Westminster School in 2012. Noting the singing of the "deliberately anti-Catholic rant", the Famine Song at Rangers-Celtic matches, he credited Cardinal Keith O'Brien with using his intellect to protect the vulnerable in Scotland whilst regretting the absence of a similar figure in the Kirk.[158]

Gove was behind plans to provide schools throughout England and Wales with a copy of the King James Bible (inscribed "presented by the Secretary of State for Education") to celebrate the 400th anniversary of its translation into English, though he said he backed the scheme because of the historical and cultural significance of that translation rather than on purely religious grounds.[159][160]

Personal life

Gove is married to Sarah Vine, who formerly wrote for The Times[161] and in 2013 became a Daily Mail columnist.[162] Gove's wealth was estimated in 2009, by the New Statesman, at £1 million.[163] Gove is a supporter of Queens Park Rangers Football Club.[164]



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