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The strange case of Michael Gove’s bookshelf


MICHAEL Gove has come under fire after his journalist wife Sarah Vine tweeted two pictures of their bookcases, showing a book by David Irving, the Holocaust denier, and The Bell Curve, which controversially claims that ethnicity can play a part in determining IQ.

Delving deeper into Mr Gove’s reading material, critics were appalled to discover that he also has biographies of Mussolini, Stalin and other leaders sharing shelf space with the memoirs of Baroness Thatcher.

Alastair Campbell duly tweeted: ‘Having Hitler, Rommel and Napoleon next to Maggie is not a good look.’ Unfazed, Ms Vine replied: ‘Don’t be so absurd. They are books. You should try them sometime – you can learn a lot from them. You will note there is also a Peter Mandelson.’

Owen Jones, the Labour activist, demanded: ‘Why does [sic] Michael Gove and his wife own a copy of a book by David Irving, one of the most notorious Holocaust deniers on earth?’ He was backed by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, who said the former Labour leader would have been vilified for owning the same reading material.

The editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, called the Twitter spat ‘The Great Twitter Bookshelf Derangement’ and remarked of the criticism: ‘The implication was clear – that there is something very dodgy about reading a book by a man like Irving. In other words, if you read it, you clearly have some sort of sympathy with the views. Blimey. If that’s how it works, I am beyond redemption. As well as two books by Irving, I’ve got a book by the actual Adolf Hitler on my shelves, not to mention Mao and – here’s where it gets really bad – I also have speeches by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.’

He insisted that Michael Gove, a member of the Holocaust Commission, set up in 2014 to explore ways in which Britain can have a permanent memorial to the Holocaust and educational resources for future generations, had ‘probably done more for Holocaust education and the Jewish community in Britain than any senior politician other than Gordon Brown. It’s obvious to anyone why he would have read the work of a Holocaust denier.’

Gove did not comment but his wife said: ‘To defeat prejudice you have to understand it.’

This seems eminently sensible, although it might cause some concern that the former Secretary of State for Education under David Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal coalition owns a copy of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s 1994 book The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, which caused controversy because, as the Telegraph noted, it ‘argued that IQ is largely inherited and that certain ethnic groups have poorer socio-economic prospects because they are less intelligent.’ And yet although Mr Gove has his critics on both Left and Right, including in the field of education, he seems not to have displayed any signs of eugenicist tendencies. Indeed, as someone who was adopted as a baby from a mother of humble background, surely he is a living refutation of the eugenics argument that backs nature against nurture.

Attending state primary and independent secondary schools, he ended up at Oxford, and in his post as Education Secretary he took a deep interest in social mobility (or lack thereof under the previous Labour administration) and the role of education; he was keen to reintroduce classic authors into school lessons and rigour to examinations. For this he was accused of elitism by the Left, for whom he became a hate figure, despite the fact that their insistence on equality of outcomes and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach led to a great many children who did not have academic leanings being perceived as having ‘failed’, thus playing into the hands of the eugenics lobby that they condemned.

Stephen Pollard notes Mr Gove’s support for Holocaust education, and an interest in Jewish affairs must include an interest in the Holocaust and its architect, Adolf Hitler. As a student of Jewish-Christian relations I also have a number of books about Hitler, including Mein Kampf, and the Holocaust; and as a researcher into the role of the Sexual Revolution in facilitating eugenics and population control, who has moreover suffered from a hereditary condition and chronic ill health for a number of years, my bookshelves would no doubt lead the academic detectives to deduce that I am a hypochondriac anti-Semitic Darwinian sex maniac. Having consulted the books for research purposes, there is the dilemma of how to dispose of them: one would not want them to fall into the wrong hands. Burning them is clearly out of the question.

I will not be tweeting pictures of my library any time soon, but Mr Gove’s life and political career are public knowledge, and with so many enemies on both sides of the House, as well as outside of it, any Nazi or eugenics involvements he may have had could scarcely remain secret. In short, regardless of his bookcases, Mr Gove is an open book, while actual eugenics and anti-Semitism – in the shape of abortion advocacy and anti-Israel sentiment – have flourished quite openly on the Left, most notoriously under ‘anti-racist’ Jeremy Corbyn. No need to seek for ‘hidden sympathies’ in his case, and yet Left-wing ‘vilification’ is hard to find, while his defenders are many. Which just goes to show that you can judge a book by its cover. 

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Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Movement (Catholic University of America, 2008).

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