Gove attacks Labour MPs for "celebrating as children had been killed"

The Education Secretary explains his "heated" response to last week's parliamentary defeat on Syria.

Of all those MPs dismayed at the outcome of last Thursday's parliamentary vote on Syria, it was Michael Gove who reacted most vehemently. The Education Secretary shouted, "A disgrace, you're a disgrace!", at Conservative and Lib Dem rebels and reportedly told shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy: "you are appeasing Assad" (prompting the alleged retort: "Fuck off you bully. You’re angry because you lost.")

At the weekend, Labour MP Dai Havard said that Gove called him a "National Socialist" prompting him to tell his party's whips: "Michael Gove just called me a National Socialist. Tell him if he does it again I’ll deck him." Tory MP Gavin Barwell, a parliamentary aide to Gove, who witnessed the row, responded by saying there had been a "misunderstanding". 

"Michael was calling Assad a National Socialist. Dai was still angry later on when I talked to him in the Members’ Smoking Room to try to sort it out. We ended up having a civilised conversation about whether or not Assad was a National Socialist."

In his first comments on the incidents, Gove told BBC Breakfast this morning: 

I did become heated last week, that is absolutely right. At the moment that the government lost the vote on the motion, there were Labour MPs cheering as though it were a sort of football match and they had just won.

At the same time on the news, we were hearing about an attack on a school in Syria and the death toll there rising - and the incongruity of Labour MPs celebrating as children had been killed by a ruthless dictator, I am afraid got to me and I did feel incredibly emotional. I do feel emotional about this subject.

The prime minister explained about the vote and that is all I want to say.

Gove's comments are inevitably being misconstrued (he did not suggest that Labour MPs were cheering the deaths of Syrian children, rather that their cheers coincided with further massacres) and on one point he is certainly right. However they voted on Thursday night, MPs should have been sober in their response. In choosing whether or not to take military action in Syria (this week's NS leader put the case against intervention), no one should forget that we are choosing between a bad outcome and an even worse one. 

Education Secretary Michael Gove speaks at last year's Conservative conference in Birmingham. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Does the UK care enough about climate change to admit it is part of the problem?

The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction.

“People tell me it’s ridiculous to be flying for a climate change project but you have to get real with it, I mean I can’t cycle across the Southern ocean,” says Daniel Price, an environmental scientist from London. As founder of Pole-to-Paris, Price is about to complete a 17,000km bike ride from the Antarctic to the Arc de Triomphe.

Price came up with the idea in an effort to raise public awareness of COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Paris next week. During the trip he’s faced a succession of set-backs: from the discovery that boats were prohibitively expensive, to diplomatic tensions scuppering his Russian visa plans. Yet the darkest moments were when he became overwhelmed by the magnitude of his own mission. “There were difficult times when I just thought, ‘What is the point of this’?” he says. “Cycling round the world is nowhere near enough to engage people.” 

As world leaders descend on Paris, many questions remain unanswered. Not least how much support developing nations will receive in tackling the effects of climate change. New research commissioned by Oxfam claims that such costs could rise to £1.7tn a year by 2050. But with cuts kicking in at home, the need to deliver “climate justice” abroad feels like a bigger ask than ever.

So does Britain really care enough about climate change to accept its full part in this burden? The government’s energy policies make can make it hard to decipher its commitment to emissions reduction. In September, however, it did pledge £5.8bn from the foreign aid fund to helping poorer nations combat climate change (twice that promised by China and the United States). And there’s evidence to suggest that we, as a public, may also care more than we think.

In America attitudes are much darker; in the dismissive words of Donald Trump “It’s called the weather”. Not least since, as a recent study proves, over the last twenty years corporations have systematically spread scepticism about the science. “The contrarian efforts have been so effective," says the author Justin Farrell, a Yale sociologist, "that they have made it difficult for ordinary Americans to even know who to trust.” 

And what about in China, the earth's biggest polluter? Single-party rule and the resulting lack of public discussion would seem to be favouring action on the environment. The government has recently promised to reach "peak" emissions by 2030, to quadruple solar installations, and to commit $3.1bn to help low-income countries adapt to the changing world. Christiana Figueres, the UN’s chief climate official, has even lauded the country for taking “undisputed leadership” on climate change mitigation.

Yet this surge of policy could mask the most troubling reality of all: that, when it comes to climate change, the Chinese are the least concerned citizenship in the world. Only 18 per cent of Chinese see the issue as a very serious problem, down 23 percentage points from five years ago, and 36 points behind the global median.

A new study by political economist Dr Alex Lo has concluded that the country’s reduced political debate could be to blame for the lack of concern. “In China popular environmentalism is biased towards immediate environmental threats”, such as desertification and pollution, Lo writes, “giving little impetus to a morally driven climate change movement”.

For the international community, all is well and good as long as the Chinese government continues along its current trajectory. But without an engaged public to hold it to account there’s always a chance its promises may fade into thin air.

So perhaps the UK’s tendency to moan about how hard it is to care about the (seemingly) remote impacts of climate change isn’t all bad. At least we know it is something worth moaning about. And perhaps we care more than we let on to each other.

Statistics published this summer by the Department of Energy and Climate Change reveal that three quarters of the British public support subsidies for renewable energy, despite only 10 per cent thinking that the figure is that high. “Even if the public think the consensus is not there, there are encouraging signs that it is,” says Liz Callegari, Head of Campaigns at WWF. “Concern for climate change is growing.”

As Price puts it, “You can think of climate change as this kind of marathon effort that we have to address and in Paris we just have to get people walking across the start line together”. Maybe then we will all be ready to run.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.