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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Brexit is teaching the UK that it needs immigrants

Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past.

Why did the UK vote to leave the EU? For conservatives, Brexit was about regaining parliamentary sovereignty. For socialists it was about escaping the single market. For still more it was a chance to punish David Cameron and George Osborne. But supreme among the causes was the desire to reduce immigration.

For years, as the government repeatedly missed its target to limit net migration to "tens of thousands", the EU provided a convenient scapegoat. The free movement of people allegedly made this ambition unachievable (even as non-European migration oustripped that from the continent). When Cameron, the author of the target, was later forced to argue that the price of leaving the EU was nevertheless too great, voters were unsurprisingly unconvinced.

But though the Leave campaign vowed to gain "control" of immigration, it was careful never to set a formal target. As many of its senior figures knew, reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year would come at an economic price (immigrants make a net fiscal contribution of £7bn a year). An OBR study found that with zero net migration, public sector debt would rise to 145 per cent of GDP by 2062-63, while with high net migration it would fall to 73 per cent. For the UK, with its poor productivity and sub-par infrastructure, immigration has long been an economic boon. 

When Theresa May became Prime Minister, some cabinet members hoped that she would abolish the net migration target in a "Nixon goes to China" moment. But rather than retreating, the former Home Secretary doubled down. She regards the target as essential on both political and policy grounds (and has rejected pleas to exempt foreign students). But though the same goal endures, Brexit is forcing ministers to reveal a rarely spoken truth: Britain needs immigrants.

Those who boasted during the referendum of their desire to reduce the number of newcomers have been forced to qualify their remarks. On last night's Question Time, Brexit secretary David Davis conceded that immigration woud not invariably fall following Brexit. "I cannot imagine that the policy will be anything other than that which is in the national interest, which means that from time to time we’ll need more, from time to time we’ll need less migrants."

Though Davis insisted that the government would eventually meet its "tens of thousands" target (while sounding rather unconvinced), he added: "The simple truth is that we have to manage this problem. You’ve got industry dependent on migrants. You’ve got social welfare, the national health service. You have to make sure they continue to work."

As my colleague Julia Rampen has charted, Davis's colleagues have inserted similar caveats. Andrea Leadsom, the Environment Secretary, who warned during the referendum that EU immigration could “overwhelm” Britain, has told farmers that she recognises “how important seasonal labour from the EU is to the everyday running of your businesses”. Others, such as the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the Business Secretary, Greg Clark, and the Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, have issued similar guarantees to employers. Brexit is fuelling immigration nimbyism: “Fewer migrants, please, but not in my sector.”

The UK’s vote to leave the EU – and May’s decision to pursue a "hard Brexit" – has deprived the government of a convenient alibi for high immigration. Finally forced to confront the economic consequences of low migration, ministers are abandoning the easy rhetoric of the past. Brexit may have been caused by the supposed costs of immigration but it is becoming an education in its benefits.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.