Commons Confidential: Mickey Gove's Schooldays

Plus: the hard life at Grauniad Towers.

A Gordonian gets in touch. The snout isn’t a devoted follower of Gordon Brown but a near contemporary of Michael Gove who attended the private Robert Gordon’s College (current fees: £11,185) in Aberdeen. Now a senior academic at a renowned British university, my source recounts an incident from Mickey Gove’s schooldays: “I was at the same school as Michael Gove, albeit several years below. As I’m sure is the case at every school, heavy snowfall was an occasion for much fun.
 
“At our school, things were very democratic – the first years, third years and fifth years would line up against the second years, fourth years and sixth years in a school-wide snowball fight.” So far, so good . . .
 
The Sunday Telegraph poacher-turned-Labour gamekeeper Patrick Hennessy’s defection from the (cough) noble world of journalism to political spinning leaves, by the way, only one Old Etonian in Her Majesty’s Press Gallery: the BBC’s James Landale. The Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn is widely cited, incorrectly, as an OE.
 
Tom Neutron Bomb went not to Cameron’s old school but Marlborough, the alma mater of Dave’s wife, Samantha and the Middleton sisters. These things matter, especially when Downton Abbey is back on the box. 
 
Let’s return for a moment to Mickey Gove’s schooldays: “As deputy head boy, Gove was tasked by the headmaster one morning with breaking up one such snowball fight. Accordingly, he strode from the prefects’ office to the middle of the playground and announced to the 500 or so boys, in the pompous manner that we are all now accustomed to, that all snowball-throwing must immediately cease. At which point, both sides turned on him.” Sounds like Labour and Lib Dem MPs in the Commons. 
 
Damian McBride shunned a lucrative approach, I hear, from an emissary of Rupert Murdoch to publish his confessions of a spin doctor with HarperCollins, the book tentacle of the Dirty Digger’s meeja empire.
 
The mogul’s senior executive allegedly offered to chuck in a column in the Times in a failed attempt to clinch the deal. Murdoch must really hate Ed Miliband and Labour if he plotted to delay detonation until nearer the election. It could have been worse, much worse, for Labour.
 
And what became of Gove? “My last memory is of him curled up on the ground as the majority of the school lined up to kick snow and ice in his face,” remembers the snout.
 
“Every time I see him on the telly, announcing some silly new reform, I can’t help but feel that Gove’s attitude to the education system may have been shaped, in small part, by this experience.” 
 
Could the Guardian’s impecunious scribes denounce Wonga from expensive experience? The London Capital Credit Union helped 17 wage slaves on the Lib Dem paper clear payday loans. Life’s tough in Grauniad Towers. 
 
Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror
Michael Gove's snowball effect. Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 30 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Game of Thrones

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.