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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