If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too – Rudyard Kipling, If
On the USVSTH3M game ‘Slap Michael Gove’, there have been over 2.5 million slaps directed at Gove. For reasons I can’t quite understand the British public seem to hate Gove with a passion. This hatred is over the top in my opinion, as Gove is a principled politician, who has some policy related achievements that deserve respect. I was in particular confused by the supercilious cheers his dismissal as Lord Chancellor prompted from liberal types, as they seem to be forgetting that Gove was in the process of pushing through groundbreaking justice system reforms. I have mixed opinions on Michael Gove’s quixotic work as education secretary, however that is not the focus of this article. My main focus is his work as Justice Secretary.
Just what were these groundbreaking justice system reforms though? Gove was launching a hope driven experiment that he hoped would lower Britain’s re-offender rate (which stands at 46% of Britain’s prisoners re-offending within the first year of their release). Gove was set to open up six Texas inspired reform prisons that were going to be run by autonomous governors, who were to have legal and financial freedoms to innovate and meet certain goals (i.e. such as reducing attacks on prison staff and improving inmate literacy), their rates of success in these fields would be transparent (via league tables) and subject to evaluation. Gove was having inspirational academy Head Teacher Dame Sally Coates review education in prison, and work out a comprehensive way of giving inmates skills while they’re locked up, that will help them stay stable once released back into society. Prisoners were also set to receive greater internet access to not only facilitate additional learning opportunities, but also to help them stay in touch with their families.
Gove was impassioned in his leadership of the justice department, clearing up the mess his predecessor Chris Grayling wrought: notably ending Grayling’s authoritarian ban on the posting of books to prisoners (as well as the 12 book limit), trying to clear up the deliberate bureaucracy that surrounds Releases on Temporary License and also calling upon the chief of the parole board to explain why so many less serious offenders are still ensnared in New Labour’s Indeterminate Sentences for Public Protection (IPP) despite this sentence being discontinued years ago; former justice secretary Ken Clarke has gone as far as to brand IPP “a stain on the justice system“.
Gove also stood up to Saudi Arabia, scrapping a British bid for a training contract with Saudi Prison Authorities (much to the dismay of Phillip Hammond). He also abolished the mandatory Criminal Courts Fee established by Grayling despite having sympathy for it’s founding principles. That extortionate fee was in practise incentivising people to plead guilty to avoid the fine revealed a report by the justice select committee. The Magistrates Association was thankful to Gove for not only listening to their concerns over the fee’s effect, but also his promise to give judges and magistrates greater discretion over financial penalties. Gove also defended prison governor Russ Trent when Trent was mocked for his gentle approach in Berwyn Prison. The chair of the Criminal Bar Association went as far as to laud Gove as “courageous” over his reversing of protested legal aid cuts (cuts that could make our justice system two-tier in terms of rich and poor).
Gove was determined to reform prisons into centres of redemption, where inmates would receive the rehabilitative support and training needed to prevent them from relapsing. These reforms took centre stage in the Queen’s speech, however that didn’t stop our new Lord Chancellor Liz Truss from shelving the proposals and not committing to the legislation needed to put Gove’s reform bill into action. Gove’s faith was pushing these reforms, with Truss that driving force will no longer factor in, and thus we will most likely be falling back onto the popular tough on crime rhetoric, whilst are prison population continues to grow and grow (now the largest in Western Europe).
Truss, like Gove before her, isn’t properly qualified for the role, however unlike Gove she has no overarching vision and no deep commitment to the role, hence it is unsurprising she performed shambolically in her first grilling from the justice select committee. Her appointment still reeks of tokenism.
It’s ironic that a figure considered to be one of the most toxic tories alive, could have proved to be one of the most popular and broadly supported justice secretaries ever. It’s a tragedy that Gove is no longer in that position, and we as a nation are poorer for it. I hope that Gove stays vocal in the frontline of debate about justice department goals and reform, and doesn’t end up retreating to the political hinterlands, while lilliputian political figures like Liz Truss reverse his in-roads.
On a personality level I don’t get the malice directed at Gove. His background as an orphan from Aberdeen who rose up the ladder to Oxford and then into the world of journalism, sets him apart from many of his contemporaries.
His outspoken wife, Sarah Vine (who is a columnist for The Mail), seemingly amplifies the hate towards him; she’s portrayed as some kind of Lady Macbeth, just because she dares to support her husband alongside being politically vocal herself.
Gove is a man who doesn’t polish over his idiosyncrasies. He talks Game of Thrones in James Dellingpole’s garden, raps Wham to schoolchildren, slams old Etonian cronyism, sends his kids to comprehensive school (take note Labour Shadow Cabinet), idolises Michael Portillo (Choo choo), and actively defends his Christianity. I’m glad he doesn’t have traditional charisma, give me someone who is bold and genuine like Gove; I’d take the Goves’ and their un-shakable self belief any day over the shallow careerists of this age.