Gove tries to flatter Miliband into submission

Education secretary says the Labour leader is "charming, intelligent, eloquent, thoughtful, generous and chivalrous".

Michael Gove's favoured modus operandi of flattering his opponents into submission (before sticking the knife in) was on full display in his speech on Ed Miliband and the trade unions today. The Education Secretary said of Miliband: 

The sad truth is that, charming, intelligent, eloquent, thoughtful, generous and chivalrous as Ed Miliband may be, in this critical test of leadership he has been uncertain, irresolute, weak. To the question [of] who governs Labour, his answer would appear to be, increasingly: the unions.

It seems that Gove was undeterred by John Bercow's brilliantly accurate mockery of his style during a Q&A with German students at the Hertie School of Governance in February (revealed last week). Bercow observed:

Michael Gove has got a capacity for referring to other members in terms that are elaborate and nominally polite, but which if reflected upon will be seen to be pretty damning," he said. "Now some people think he's patronising.

He has got a habit of saying: 'Well, that's a typically acute observation by the honourable gentleman; well, I congratulate the honourable gentleman, he's certainly brought to my notice a matter of considerable import' – even though the matter brought to his notice is as banal a matter as can possibly have been raised at any time that afternoon.

Michael will sort of lavish the person with superficial praise and then will proceed to explain 'why in this particular case, not withstanding my very real and deep-rooted admiration, he does suffer from the quite notable disadvantage of being wrong'.

Education Secretary Michael Gove holds a paint sponge as he helps paint a picture of Canary Wharf during a visit to Old Ford Primary School on June 25, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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