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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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.