Does Michael Gove exist?
Does Michael Gove exist? It’s a poser of the kind that vexes philosophers who scratch their oxters over puzzles such as the nature of holes: does the hole in your pocket exist as some thing, over and above a sheer absence of fabric, or is it really zilch, with the striking attributes that nothing boasts (such as a lack of physical location)? Here, as often in philosophy, the big if is whether everyday chatter can survive a hard look at how things are. And when it comes to Gove-chat, that must be more than doubtful.
Take, for instance, that effortlessly gormless mug, which looks so nearly human but is presumably computer-generated. Since this snap was ostensibly taken, thirty years ago, Gove actually seems to have grown younger. From looking like a teenager with prostate trouble, he now resembles a sexagenarian third-former. Maybe next he’ll fall prey to acne, or become obsessed with Cradle of Filth and start wearing indigo lipstick. Indeed, Gove might be the humanoid avatar of 'Eugene Goostman', the chatbot recently reported as having passed the Turing test by posing as a 13-year-old boy and being accepted as such. When he was about that age Gove wrote a hagiography of Michael Portillo, then the last hope of the stern unbending Tories. Polly’s star faded, but Gove’s went supernova after he jacked in journalism for politics. He now attends Notting Hill soirées, in dweebish conclave with gilded ex-youth.
Further grounds for doubting Gove’s existence come from what might be thought an unimpeachable source – his mother, who according to the Daily Record can never get hold of him. For her, the Record tells us, he exists primarily as an answerphone message; if only the rest of us could get that close. Then there’s his name, like an obsolete and clearly factitious past participle (And yea, thou gove the Lord thy brethren in supplication etc.); indeed, one of Gove's brainwaves was to place a King James Bible in every school in the land. And there’s his complete absence from the Better Together campaign against Scottish independence, despite being a Scot and one of only two Tories in the Cabinet from outside metroland (the other is Eric Pickles). One sees why braying Etonians don’t front the No campaign, on the grounds that just about anything that trips from their curled lips will boost the Yes vote; Gove, however, is not Bullingdonian, but Aberdonian.
Other gobbets of Gove’s biog betray failure by his creators to stick to a plausible script. He’s reportedly a C of E communicant but Presbyterian, a Unionist who downplays his north British origins, and weirdest of all, a ‘proud Zionist’, as if he were an Israeli Voortrekker on the Golan. And, above all, there’s Gove’s policy squibs, which proliferate like the outputs of those websites that randomly generate Daily Mail headlines. Although a fan of raptor capitalism, Gove’s also big on tradition, enraptured by olde Englishe and that great nationalised industry, the monarchy (he wanted taxpayers, in the trough of austerity, to fork over £60 million for a new royal yacht). He’s fond of something he calls ‘our island story’ and thinks the British Empire was pretty good for all concerned, with its proud traditions of slavery and massacre. He fights the good fight for English – really, just English – literature, against all those anglophone colonials who’ve dabbled in the writing game; for these purposes, presumably, Aberdeen falls within the M25.
As Education Secretary Gove has expanded to fill ever-baggier briefs. His free schools brainchild aimed to drive up standards; their failure rate in Ofsted inspections is triple the national average. Meanwhile fee-paying schools dodge Ofsted and have their own Independent Schools Inspectorate which, as with the old Press Complaints Commission, is rather like getting criminal activity policed by cosa nostra. After nixing snap school inspections, against the advice of Ofsted, Gove U-turned, and as a diversionary tactic sounded the alarm over ‘Trojan Horse’ Islamic entryism in Birmingham schools (couldn’t he have culled a cliché from English literature?). The home secretary put down her Russell & Bromleys after Gove had fingered Charles Farr, her counter-terrorism adviser, for having let the horse through the school gate.
Farr's stitch-up was via anonymous press briefings which could not possibly have escaped the event horizon that is Gove's office. As usual, the education secretary exerts a gravitational force that is strongest when least visible, its centre the man who is never there.