“And now that’s done,” said the blind man; and at the words he suddenly left hold of me, and with incredible accuracy and nimbleness, skipped out of the parlour and into the road, where, as I still stood motionless, I could hear his stick go tap-tap-tapping into the distance.
Blind Pew delivers the lethal Black Spot to Billy Bones,
Robert Louis Stephenson’s Treasure Island (Chapter 3)*
Last Thursday Michael Gove gave a speech to the National College of Teaching and Leadership in which he praised a number of teachers for their role in running schools (such as Liam Nolan of Perry Beeches), crafting the curriculum (like Daisy Christodoulou of Pimlico Academy’s Curriculum Centre) and shaping the debate on education (including Old Andrew and Tom Bennett).
Having been told by a friend I should probably have a look at Gove’s speech on the DfE website, I was reading all this and reflecting on what it might say about Gove’s attitude towards the teaching profession, about which I’d written before … then I read this:
I’m also an admirer of John Blake of Labour Teachers, who has transcended party politics to praise all schools which succeed for their pupils, even if they are academies or free schools.
Now, I’m a teacher who occasionally shares some ideas I think might be interesting, inside my party and beyond; I’m no politician’s education adviser or paid public policy expert. So, it was a surprise to be quoted like this, especially by someone I am very critical of, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t very gratifying to know that someone reads what I write, even if that person is a politician tipped for the leadership of a party I desperately want to see out of power forever. I did wonder if Gove had included this small piece of praise just to make some Labour people uncomfortable to have him praising one of their own. But I always argue that politicians should (mostly) be taken at their word, so I am going to assume he means what he says – he’s read something I wrote and thought it had some merit. Entirely unexpected as it was, I’d take the compliment and move on.
Turns out that some other people on the left don’t see it that way. For them, I’ve been handed the Black Spot, which so swiftly killed off Billy Bones. I’d recently managed to upset quite a lot of people on the traditional left of the party by suggesting a number of radical policy options for Stephen Twigg to consider, and now Michael Gove’s professed admiration was too much to cope with**. I’ve had people tell me that no Labour politician will ever be influenced by me again (which makes a presumption that I never have–that I’ve influenced anyone to begin with!) and others have brusquely informed me I should immediately sign up to the Tories, as though I were a mildly baffled dog, easily called away from my owner by someone else shouting my name. Those comments I want to respond to.
I am passionately committed to the Labour Party and the achievement of a Labour government as soon as possible and for as long as possible. But to achieve office, Labour must speak to more than a coalition of public sector workers, disaffected Liberals and fair-weather friends who join in the angry days of opposition but have no stomach for the hard choices of government. I grew up in south-eastern commuter towns, places where it’s now not just unpopular to vote Labour, it’s downright weird: a counter-cultural statement so outlandish it ranks alongside nudism and Scientology. That isn’t sustainable, not if we really want to govern this country as ‘One Nation’ – Labour has to win in the places I grew up, where they vote Tory like an obligation or LibDem like an indulgence, and we won’t win there without crossing some boundaries. So if anything I’ve written briefly intrigues a few Tories, even a Tory minister, I’m damned proud of it – building coalitions for change is what the Labour Party should be about, and to change someone’s mind, you first need to get their attention. It doesn’t mean I think Gove is doing a fine job (in fact, I explain pretty clear here that I don’t) and it doesn’t mean I’m an interloper in the labour movement. I don’t think I’ve been handed the Black Spot – or if I have, I’ll treat it the way Long John Silver treats his and just get on with what I was doing anyway.
So, I’ll be honest – I’m pretty pleased Michael Gove likes some of what I write enough to say so, I’m pleased what that says about the chances of building a broader movement for the much-needed reform of our schools, and I am going to go on campaigning for Labour to keep its traditions of radical reform. And I’ll always believe a Labour government can deliver for all the people of this country better than the Tories, and I’ll go on campaigning for that too.
* Before any pedant comments, I know the “I” in this quote refers to Jim Hawkins, who holds out Billy’s hand for Pew to deliver the spot, but that all seemed a bit long to explain in the citation.
** The excellent John Rentoul was good enough to predict this here.