A letter in today’s Observer about George Osborne’s financial competence caught my eye — the letter was in response to an article by Will Hutton in which he had assumed that Osborne really is seeking to remedy financial inequality in the country but he just doesn’t have the economic competence to make it happen. The sentiment in the letter resonated with my own thoughts, not just about Osborne, but about the whole Tory endeavour in Government at the moment, and especially about Michael Gove’s assault on schooling in England. Of Osborne, Graham Aspinall, of Sheffield, wrote:
To credit Osborne merely with economic illiteracy, as Hutton and Blanchflower et al do, is too charitable. He is a shrewd ideologue and strategist. It’s not that he doesn’t understand the ruin he is inflicting on families. He knows what he’s doing; he just doesn’t care. Osborne is not an economic illiterate; he’s worse – a moral illiterate.
Polly Toynbee has called the current administration:
…the most rightwing of all postwar governments…
I agree. And deep at the heart of this rightwing government is a clever, seemingly-complex (but really not), unfailingly polite, well-read and media-savvy ideologue who just happens to be in charge of education, apparently by his own choice. At least in Scotland we have only to contend with an egotistical incompetent as education secretary; English state schooling, on the other hand, is now being systematically undermined and dismantled by a man who thinks that his own life tale, that of someone from humble beginnings made good by a rigorous schooling of a tradtional kind, is the model that must serve everyone.
But that is only part of what Gove is about. Gove, like many of his rightwing friends in this Government and beyond, accept wholeheartedly the concept of an education system as a race to the line, as the means by which the country’s elite is selected and trained, and as a system designed to weed out those who are not capable (defined by criteria designed to serve the rightwing credo) of benefiting from any kind of academic schooling. Many will throw, and have thrown, the epithet of elitist at this crew, and will intend it as censure. To Gove and his colleagues, such name-callers are merely stating the obvious. They would call themselves exactly the same, being merely descriptive of their philosophy and intentions and values.
Michael Gove is a man with a mission, and he is in a hurry to complete it. State schooling in England has been, for many years now, a foreign land when viewed over the fence from Scottish education; soon, it will be more like viewing the surface of Saturn, an exotic place beyond our easy ken and understanding, a situation not lacking in irony given that Gove’s own schooling happened in Scotland.