Political sketch: Leveson's battle for linguistic supremacy

The Education Secretary's afternoon at the Courts.

 

When Cicero, in the fourth book of his second oration against Verres, wrote "o tempora o mores," little did he know the school swot from Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen would trot it out at the Leveson inquiry - but then he'd never met Michael Gove.

The one-time Times Leader writer - now Education Secretary - took a half day off his hols to trot his brain and its attendant vocabulary down to the Royal Courts of Justice to question why time was being wasted.

For those who have yet to meet Mr Gove, imagine a male version of Miss Jean Brodie, prim and proper but with a large streak of self-satisfaction.

He arrived at the inquiry with baggage having described its "chilling atmosphere" as a danger to free speech in an address to journalists earlier this year.

And he had clearly warmed to his theme as he took his place in the seat polished by the appearance yesterday of Tony Blair whose more jaundiced view of the press had been presented.

A man supremely confident in his own opinions, as befits someone paid to trot them out daily in The Thunderer, Mr Gove made it clear from the outset that he was there to lecture and not to be lectured.

Chief Inquisitor Robert Jay appeared a bit baffled by his new witness whose mouth seemed constantly more full of words than would fit and so even he, the man who brought us "propinquity" just recently, could only listen to someone never knowingly contradicted - who had he been in a real court would have been described as hostile.

Many and grand words, several of them in foreign languages, were spoken as the two men jousted for linguistic superiority but the Scotsman saw off his competitor as sentences rang around the courtroom.

We did discover that Rupert Murdoch, whom Gove seemed to meet on a very regular basis, was "one of the most impressive and significant figures over the last fifty years," and someone with whom he had never discussed anything relevant to the inquiry at any time and in any place.

He also had been "privileged", as he put it, to meet Viscount Harmsworth owner of the Mail stable and equally privileged to meet Richard Desmond, owner of much more besides.

And if that were not enough he had met Paul Dacre, editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail, and "one of the most impressive editors of our age".

Having guaranteed good coverage in more than half of Fleet Street tomorrow - not to mention job security after the general election - Mr Gove turned his attention to the threat to freedom he clearly believes the inquiry could pose.

He asked if the cure might be worse than the disease as he rattled off word perfect replies to anything Jay put to him, and even Lord Leveson got short shrift when he tried to prick his bumptiousness.

And there was little love lost when Lord L's patience finally ran out during Lecture XXVI on Freedom: "I don't need to be told about the importance of free speech, I really don't," he said rather testily.

But Michael refused to be pricked and on he went to remind the judge to be careful when drawing up his recommendations.

Then it was back to the Department of Education where no doubt they had taken advantage of the headmaster's absence and gone to the pub.

 
Michael Gove. Photo: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Angela Rayner - from teenage mum to the woman who could unify Labour

Corbyn-supporting Rayner mentioned Tony Blair in her speech. 

For those at the Labour party conference feeling pessimistic this September, Angela Rayner’s speech on education may be a rare moment of hope. 

Not only did the shadow education secretary capitalise on one of the few issues uniting the party – opposition to grammar schools – and chart a return to left-wing policies, but she did so while paying tribute to the New Labour legacy. 

Rayner grew up on a Stockport council estate, raised by a mother who could not read nor write. She was, she reminded conference, someone who left school a no-hoper. 

"I left school at 16 pregnant and with no qualifications. Some may argue I was not a great role model for young people. The direction of my life was already set.

"But something happened. Labour's Sure Start centres gave me and my friends, and our children, the support we needed to grow and develop."

Rayner has shown complete loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn throughout the summer, taking two briefs in the depopulated shadow cabinet and speaking at his campaign events.

Nevertheless, as someone who practically benefited from Labour’s policies during its time in government, she is unapologetic about its legacy. She even mentioned the unmentionable, declaring: “Tony Blair talked about education, education, education. Theresa May wants segregation, segregation, segregation.”

As for Rayner's policies, a certain amount of realism underpins her rhetoric. She wants to bring back maintenance grants for low-income students, and the Educational Maintenance Allowance for those in further education. 

But she is not just offering a sop to the middle class. A new childcare taskforce will focus on early education, which she describes as “the most effective drivers of social mobility”. 

Rayner pledged to “put as much effort into expanding, technical, vocational education and meaningful apprenticeships, as we did with higher education”. She declared: "The snobbery about vocational education must end."

Tory critics have questioned the ability of a woman who left school at 16 to be an education secretary, Rayner acknowledged. “I may not have a degree - but I have a Masters in real life,” she said. It could have sounded trite, but her speech delivered the goods. Perhaps she will soon earn her PhD in political instincts too.