Michael Gove, the “Jade Goody Test” and Clause Four Comp

“When Goody had money she chose to invest in her children.”

In this week's New Statesman, out tomorrow, we have a fascinating interview-profile of the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, one of the best I have read of him. It's by Francis Beckett, an expert on education issues, whose latest book is What Did the Baby Boomers Ever Do For Us? (Biteback).

In the mid-to-late 1990s, Gove and I were colleagues on the Times. Our offices were an old windowless rum warehouse located deep within the interior of Rupert Murdoch's Wapping complex, shut away behind high security fences. The whole oppressive set-up was like something out of a J G Ballard novel -- or, in retrospect, an early experiment in what would become Gordon Brown's surveillance state.

The building had two levels; Gove sat on the upper level, close to the editor Peter Stothard and his fellow leader-writers. I wrote essays and features and was on the ground floor, seated next to Giles Coren, an engaging and tyrannical monologist even then. It was obvious to me that Gove would ultimately pursue a career in Conservative politics and that Coren would end up presenting a television game show, or something like that.

There is a nice moment in the interview, during a discussion on policy, when Gove offers a novel way of measuring educational aspiration. Let's call it the Jade Goody Test.

Everyone remembers Norman Tebbit's "cricket test", which he used as a measure of a second- or third-generation immigrant's allegiance to the British state. "A large proportion of Britain's Asian population fail to pass the cricket test," Tebbitt said in 1990. "Which side do they cheer for? It's an interesting test. Are you still harking back to where you came from or where you are?"

Now, Gove has come up with his own test -- this time to determine where, given the opportunity, parents would choose to send their children to school. "Jade Goody," he says, "became an icon of educational underachievement, but when she had money she chose to invest it in her children by giving them the most traditional Essex prep-school schooling possible, and creating an endowment trust fund before she died so they could continue to attend fee-paying schools with all the criteria that David Cameron listed."

David Cameron, lest we forget, said: "We all know what a good school is, it's a school where, among other things, children all wear uniforms."

Gove continues:

If you said to people there's a Labour school and a Conservative school -- there's the Gordon Brown Comprehensive and David Cameron Academy -- people would imagine that the Conservative school had all of these things [the things Cameron has been talking about, such as uniforms]. People would imagine that the Labour school had teachers in jeans, a rather more free-form approach towards discipline. Funnily enough, I believe the majority of parents would, given the choice, send their child to St Tory's, rather than to the Clause Four comp.

Wealthier parents, when they have the opportunity, overwhelmingly choose traditional schools. It's still the case that the majority of people who can't or wouldn't contemplate educating their children privately -- either due to lack of resources or principled aversion to the idea -- prefer a small-c conservative approach to the operation of their school, a disciplined and ordered environment. And a uniform is a symbol of that.

In addition, Gove speaks candidly and affectingly about his adoption and whether he would one day attempt to find his birth mother.

I am more than just grateful. I had a fantastic upbringing. My parents were wonderful and I know, in the way that you can't always put into words, that to seek to find out who my birth mother is would upset my parents. They wouldn't ever stand in my way; they've always encouraged me to find out. They've never even given me a hint. But I just sort of know that to do something would be to imply that the role they played in my life was somehow not perfect or complete. It would be like saying to your mother that everything she provided for you wasn't enough -- that I needed an additional Gove for maternal love or validation.

Anyway, as I said, you can read the profile in this week's magazine. A longer version will be published online next week.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Future of the Left: trade unions are more important than ever

Trade unions are under threat - and without them, the left has no future. 

Not accepting what you're given, when what you're given isn't enough, is the heart of trade unionism.

Workers having the means to change their lot - by standing together and organising is bread and butter for the labour movement - and the most important part? That 'lightbulb moment' when a group of workers realise they don't have to accept the injustice of their situation and that they have the means to change it.

That's what happened when a group of low-paid hospital workers organised a demonstration outside their hospital last week. As more of their colleagues clocked out and joined them on their picket, thart lightbulb went on.

When they stood together, proudly waving their union flags, singing a rhythmic chant and raising their homemade placards demanding a living wage they knew they had organised the collective strength needed to win.

The GMB union members, predominantly BAME women, work for Aramark, an American multinational outsourcing provider. They are hostesses and domestics in the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, a mental health trust with sites across south London.

Like the nurses and doctors, they work around vulnerable patients and are subject to verbal and in some cases physical abuse. Unlike the nurses and doctors their pay is determined by the private contractor that employs them - for many of these staff that means statutory sick pay, statutory annual leave entitlement and as little as £7.38 per hour.

This is little more than George Osborne's new 'Living Wage' of £7.20 per hour as of April.

But these workers aren't fighting for a living wage set by government or even the Living Wage Foundation - they are fighting for a genuine living wage. The GMB union and Class think tank have calculated that a genuine living wage of £10ph an hour as part of a full time contract removes the need for in work benefits.

As the TUC launches its 'Heart Unions' week of action against the trade union bill today, the Aramark workers will be receiving ballot papers to vote on whether or not they want to strike to win their demands.

These workers are showing exactly why we need to 'Heart Unions' more than ever, because it is the labour movement and workers like these that need to start setting the terms of the real living wage debate. It is campaigns like this, low-paid, in some cases precariously employed and often women workers using their collective strength to make demands on their employer with a strategy for winning those demands that will begin to deliver a genuine living wage.

It is also workers like these that the Trade Union Bill seeks to silence. In many ways it may succeed, but in many other ways workers can still win.

Osborne wants workers to accept what they're given - a living wage on his terms. He wants to stop the women working for Aramark from setting an example to other workers about what can be achieved.

There is no doubting that achieving higher ballot turn outs, restrictions on picket lines and most worryingly the use of agency workers to cover strikers work will make campaigns like these harder. But I refuse to accept they are insurmountable, or that good, solid organisation of working people doesn't have the ability to prevail over even the most authoritarian of legislation.

As the TUC launch their Heart Unions week of action against the bill these women are showing us how the labour movement can reclaim the demands for a genuine living wage. They also send a message to all working people, the message that the Tories fear the most, that collective action can still win and that attempts to silence workers can still be defeated.