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Sunday, April 14, 2024
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HomeNewsMichael Gove: Little people, you've never had it so good

Michael Gove: Little people, you’ve never had it so good

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FOR many, Michael Gove is a popular politician who has for a long time been a lone voice of sanity in the Conservative Party. Articulate, knowledgeable and with a finger on the pulse of the electorate, he epitomises all that is good in politics. For his detractors, he is a Machiavellian geek, happy to knife colleagues in the back to advance his own career.

Whichever side of the fence you sit on, what cannot be denied is his outstanding ability to understand complex arguments. This enviable skill was showcased in his response to Greta Thunberg’s justifiable hectoring of MPs in 2019. Alongside fellow MPs Layla Moran, Ed Miliband and other politicians and officials, Michael Gove sat mesmerised as Greta lambasted them with excoriating invective

‘This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind. You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to.’

The UK, she said, was very special due to its ‘mind-blowing historical carbon debt’, a reference to the country’s record as the birthplace of industrialisation. It was a pivotal moment in the UK’s history, and an ugly reminder of the massive harm we have created. It was left to a shell-shocked Michael Gove to sum up the UK’s culpability.

‘Your voice – still, calm and clear – is like the voice of our conscience,’ said the then environment secretary. ‘When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt. I am of your parents’ generation, and I recognise that we haven’t done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create.’

Such an admission gilded Gove’s already glittering reputation as a man of compassion, and above all, as someone who is ready and willing to roll up his sleeves and get things done.

That is why he has unsurprisingly been selected as the most able politician to address the increasingly high-profile issue facing the UK – extremism. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities faces navigating treacherous waters that for a less able individual would prove his undoing.

Ahead of today’s publication of his counter-extremism strategy and his disclosure this afternoon (under Parliamentary privilege) of the organisations that undermine British democracy, Gove granted an exclusive interview to TCW. We meet in his somewhat spartan office in the House of Commons. In person he is slightly smaller than I imagine, he wears his trademark Joe 90 spectacles and is eager to talk about the challenges he has faced.

I start by asking him two questions that I think the British public want answering: What is extremism and why does it exist?

‘That is two different questions: one is easy to answer, the other, less so. I think we can define extremism quite easily, by that I mean any opinion or thought that is outside of what a normal right-minded individual might think. I must emphasise that the phrase right-minded is used in its old-fashioned way and should not be misinterpreted as any kind of endorsement of the kind of right-wing thuggery we have seen scar both Europe and the US. I, and I am sure, voters up and down the UK, felt revulsion at the antics of Trump’s supporters in America and the loathsome AfD in Germany.

‘If we are to have any harmony in society, these enemies of democracy need to be challenged head on, and if that doesn’t work, then quite naturally we need to look at other tools at our disposal as a responsible government.

‘Why extremism exists is a far more complex issue, involving society and multifaceted problems. As a government, we often struggle to understand why a country such as the United Kingdom is in disharmony. Part of the problem, I think, is that the population are extremely content. Macmillan summed it up with his ‘You’ve never had it so good’ speech. That sentiment is even truer today than then. People are undeniably happier and more content that at any time in history. With that gladness, people cast around for problems where none exists. The Government has striven tirelessly to make life easier for so many sections of society, and to have certain groups carping and moaning about nothing is particularly galling.’

Will his strategy proscribe groups who seek to destabilise society, or will it be a typical fudge document that fails to address the matter in hand, resulting in an unholy mess that will ensnare all manner of innocent individuals in a legal labyrinth?

He appears startled at the question and blinks frequently behind his glasses. Marshalling his thoughts, he says: ‘Let me be totally transparent. I will not flinch from my sacred responsibility to protect democracy in all its forms here in the UK. No one is above the law, and I bow to no one in my admiration of the police in carrying out their duty with impartiality. You will have to wait until my report is published, but I can assure you that it will not pull its punches.’

With that, he extends his hand signifying that our meeting is at an end. I leave his office reassured that with capable and dedicated public servants such as Mr Gove, the UK can look forward to a very contented and favourable future.

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Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin
Alexander McKibbin is a retired media executive who worked across domestic and international media.

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