Don’t be fooled by the urbane environment secretary, says ANDREW ADONIS. He is from a long line of zealots who have harmed our country.
Because he is polite, reads books and can appear thoughtful, Michael Gove is sometimes mistaken for a cuddly intellectual in politics. This image is cultivated by his acolytes, who, after a series of Gove effusions to think tanks this week, wrote of his ‘rare ability to appeal to both sides’ and so on.
As someone reputedly susceptible to his cross-party appeal, who agrees with him on some aspects of education and criminal justice reform, I have a special duty to say that on the big issues of contemporary politics – Brexit, nationalism, liberalism – Gove is a neo-con hack, and his arguments merely a joined-up version of the populism and paranoia of Nigel Farage.
Exhibit A: Gove’s Policy Exchange speech this week attacking ‘identity politics’ and lauding the United Kingdom as the ‘original set’ of the United States, a successful multinational union flourishing in the face of nationalism, which will be strengthened by leaving the European Union.
Leaving aside the self-awareness deficit in Gove decrying the SNP for playing ‘identity politics’, this is tendentious, incoherent Faragism. It represents everything we have to defeat in the campaign to stop Brexit over the coming months.
The notion that the United Kingdom has been a successful union of nations is historical illiteracy exceeded only by the arrogance of an English nationalism which, in the hands of the Farage-Goves down the ages, has proved unable to get on for long with practically any other nation on earth, starting with the other nations within the British Isles.
My book out next month with Will Hutton, Saving Britain, takes apart England’s record of ‘union’ with its neighbours in the British Isles. Centuries of brutal, bloody, tragic English colonial rule in Ireland ended in all-out war and independence for most of the Emerald Isle.
For only 122 of the last 1,000 years – from 1800 to 1922 – has a multinational state with a parliament embraced the entire British Isles. For Ireland, it was 122 years of famine, oppression and bitter conflict. When Gladstone, the greatest English liberal leader of the 19th century, attempted to introduce self-government to Ireland on a model akin to devolution today in Scotland, he was ruthlessly and successfully opposed by the Tories of his day, led by Lord Salisbury – descendant of Elizabeth I’s minister William Cecil – who even likened the Irish to Hottentots, saying they were as incapable of self-government as the African tribes Britain also ruled.
These same Tories, including Gove, opposed devolution to Scotland and Wales for more than a century and ruled them as virtual colonies too. Margaret Thatcher scuppered devolution within the UK even after legislation for it had been enacted by the Wilson/Callaghan Labour government in 1977. Devolved assemblies in Edinburgh and Cardiff, were only established, by Tony Blair in the teeth of bitter Tory opposition.
And who was it who nearly destroyed the union with Scotland entirely by holding a deliberately provocative and unnecessary referendum four years ago? Enter, yet again, the Tory high command, now led by none other than Gove himself with his then-friend David Cameron.
As for the United Kingdom as the ‘original set’ of the United States, has Gove read not a word of those Edmund Burke volumes on his shelves? The great speeches decrying English colonialism in America in the 1760s and 1770s? ‘Let the colonies always keep the idea of their civil rights associated with your government, they will grapple and cling to you and no force under heaven will be of power to tear them from your allegiance,’ goes Burke’s speech on conciliation with America.
The response from George III, Lord North and the Goves of the late 18th century? No, no, no. Submission and obedience to the English parliament was instructed, red-coated armies dispatched, war waged. Independence followed. It took Churchill, a great English liberal who briefly seized the leadership of the Conservative party because England’s true Tories had brought England to the verge of defeat by Hitler in 1940, to heal the rift nearly two centuries later.
The greatest irony of all? For only 70 years of the last 1,000 years has England managed to get on peacefully and productively with all its neighbours, west, east, north and south. They were the 70 years since the defeat of Hitler, most of them as a member of the European Union which Churchill inspired. Gove’s response? The same as George III and Lord Salisbury. Decry, destroy, dominate.
Only this time, the English are not putty in the hands of Gove’s reactionary English nationalists. Lots of us are resisting. We have seen Faragism, mediated by Govian hacks, so often before. We know it ends in poverty and tragedy. Not in our time – and not in our name.