Brex Factor: Gove’s Womble army of dystopian Detectorists

Scavenger Hunt: Michael Gove has a plan to turn us into Wombles. Photo by Adam Butler/PA/EDI

Scavenger Hunt: Michael Gove has a plan to turn us into Wombles. Photo by Adam Butler/PA/EDI - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A burglary suspect being held on remand escaped from jail in Louisville, Kentucky, last weekend by hiding in a trash can and covering himself with waste. His name was Jeremy Hunt.

Photos released by the local department of corrections soon showed this Hunt to be a sleepy-eyed, shaven-headed type, puncturing any thoughts that our own foreign secretary might have jetted to the USA on diplomatic business, manufactured a spot of trouble to land behind bars and then buried himself in garbage, all just to get a jump-start on Michael Gove's exciting new plan to turn post-Brexit Brits into a nation of rubbish heap magpies. Becoming, if you will, a scavenger Hunt.

In case you missed it, the environment secretary has called for councils to throw open the doors of waste sites so we can 'search for gold' among the broken bicycles and stained mattresses like dystopian Detectorists.

Gove is a man who said recently that Brexit would offer a 'sea of opportunity', but obviously neglected to mention it would be a sea of knackered toasters and Simply Red cassettes.

A man who, in February 2016, wrote that 'we can show the rest of Europe the way to flourish', and now reveals that what we will be flourishing is an empty aerosol can.

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The unkind suggest that, since Gove must read his wife Sarah Vine's Daily Mail column, the concept of trawling through mounds of fetid detritus in search of a pearl or two is a pursuit familiar to him.

Or that, since Gove so closely resembles the children's television character Pob, it is hardly surprising to find him taking strategy notes from the Wombles and the mouse-organ mice out of Bagpuss.

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Perhaps, they say, this is why he ignores the simple fact that the vast majority of what can be found of council waste tips is – surprise! – waste.

People with functioning but obsolete irons and radios and televisions tend to get rid of them through Gumtree or Freecycle, often because they lack either a nearby council tip or the transport to get to one. Salvageable electrical items which do end up in waste sites tend to stay there simply because of the cost of safety testing and repair. You can't fault a politician for trying new solutions but with the environment secretary there is a hint of the old quote about Sepp Blatter: 'He has 50 ideas before breakfast, and 51 of them are bad.'

This plan, you feel sure, will soon follow other Gove greatest hits – ending a school building scheme without consultation, the Harvey Weinstein 'joke', scrapping school sports partnership and free books, cuts to legal aid, the whole Boris for PM campaign thing – on to one of his beloved scrap heaps.

And perhaps it is understandable that Gove is so concerned with recycling at the moment.

During her speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Theresa May told delegates: 'I passionately believe that our best days lie ahead of us and that our future is full of promise.'

It must have sounded familiar to Gove, who launched his disastrous bid for the Tory leadership in July 2016 with these words: 'My heart tells me that if we are bold, if we refuse to settle for business as usual, if we dare to dream and summon up all the qualities that have made this country the greatest in the world, then for Britain – and its people – our best days lie ahead.'

Stirring stuff. But Gove did not coin the 'best days ahead' line either. It came from a 1971 speech by Richard Nixon, the worst president until the current one, and a man to whom Americans were willing to say something Gove is not: Good riddance to bad rubbish.

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