The reaction to Michael Gove and Theresa May's briefing battle shows we're no longer used to our government ministers warring. Photo: Getty
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What the response to the Trojan Horse scandal reveals about today's outwardly cleaner politics

The response to the Trojan Horse scandal, which has arisen from a rift between two powerful cabinet secretaries, tells us that our politics has been cleaner – or at least quieter – than ever.

Warring cabinet ministers. Backroom briefings. Overmighty special advisers. Policy implications obscured by political personalities. Resignations, apologies, and stony silence.

This is what we assume Westminster politics is all about. It's what riles and alienates the public. It's what excites and galvanises the media. And it certainly rings true in the furore of the Trojan Horse scandal currently causing such ire in No 10. Two powerful cabinet ministers – the Education Secretary and the Home Secretary – have been in a battle of briefings and leakings over Birmingham schools embroiled in an "extremism" row.

But the energetic response from Downing Street, opposition politicians and the media to this story reveals a cleaner, or at least quieter, politics in the upper echelons of government than we've had in a while. Public infighting between ministers was a notorious aspect of the often divided New Labour administration, but the political aspect of the Trojan Horse story reminds us that we haven't seen anything close to the factions, fictions and frictions of that time during this coalition. That's one of the reasons why a fall-out between cabinet ministers has caused such an extraordinary fuss. We're just not used to it anymore.

David Cameron is said to be furious about the damaging breakdown in cooperation between two of his most influential ministers, and has personally intervened. Michael Gove has been forced to apologise both to the prime minister and Home Office counter-terrorism adviser Charles Farr, whom he briefed against to The Times. Theresa May's special adviser, Fiona Cunningham, resigned over a letter published by the Home Secretary's office to Gove suggesting his department had failed to act over alleged plots to take over Birmingham schools.

Labour has weighed in heavily, with May and Gove's opposite numbers Yvette Cooper and Tristram Hunt writing to the PM accusing May of breaking the ministerial code, and calling for him to take action.

The home affairs select committee chair Keith Vaz has written to May demanding "a full explanation of what has happened" and has announced that his committee will call her in for questioning.

Journalists were always likely to leap on a story about a cabinet split, but the (rightly) horrified reaction from Downing Street, opposition and the backbenches suggests surprise at such a public dirty political tangle taking place under this government. Anonymous briefings and public infighting seem to be the stuff of New Labour history; the Blair/Brown backstabbing of yester-parliament. In contrast, Ed Miliband's party appears more-or-less united. And the deputy prime minister and Cameron had so far managed to stave off at least the lurid public mess of a cabinet table at each other's throats, even if there are inevitable disagreements behind closed, or slammed, doors.

Perhaps then the encouraging lesson we can take from the Gove/May rift is that it's an aberration from, rather than a foundation of, today's cabinet relations.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Indie band The 1975 want to “sue the government” over the Electoral Commission’s latest advert

Frontman Matt Healy perhaps isn’t aware that the Electoral Commission is not, in fact, the government (or believes that this is part of a wider conspiracy).

How do you make registering to vote in the EU Referendum cool? It sounds like something  from The Thick of It, but judging by the Electoral Commission’s latest TV ad for their new voting guide, this was a genuine question posed in their meetings this month. The finished product seems inspired by teen Tumblrs with its killer combination of secluded woodlands, vintage laundrettes and bright pink neon lighting.

But indie-pop band The 1975 saw a different inspiration for the advert: the campaign for their latest album, I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (Yes, a title perhaps even more cumbersome than “The EU Referendum - You Can’t Miss It (Phase One)”).

Lead singer Matt Healy posted a picture of the guide with the caption “LOOK OUT KIDZ THE GOVERNMENT ARE STEALING OUR THOUGHTS!!” back on 17 May. The release of the TV spot only furthered Healy’s suspicions:

Healy perhaps isn’t aware that the Electoral Commission is not, in fact, the government (or believes that this is part of a wider conspiracy).

The 1975’s manager, Jamie Oborne, was similarly outraged.

Oborne added that he was particularly “disappointed” that the director for the band’s video for their song “Settle Down”, Nadia Marquard Otzen, also directed the Electoral Commission’s ad. But Otzen also directed the Electoral Commission’s visually similar Scottish Referendum campaign video, released back in September 2014: almost a year before The 1975 released the first promotional image for their album on Instagram on 2 June 2015.

Many were quick to point out that the band “didn’t invent neon lights”. The band know this. Their visual identity draws on an array of artists working with neon: Dan Flavin’s florescent lights, James Turrell’s “Raemar pink white”, Nathan Coley’s esoteric, and oddly-placed, Turner-shortlisted work, Bruce Nauman’s aphoristic signs, Chris Bracey’s neon pink colour palette, to just name a few – never mind the thousands of Tumblrs that undoubtedly inspired Healy’s aesthetics (their neon signs were exhibited at a show called Tumblr IRL). I see no reason why Otzen might not be similarly influenced by this artistic tradition.

Of course, The 1975 may be right: they have helped to popularise this particular vibe, moving it out of aesthetic corners of the internet and onto leaflets dropped through every letterbox in the country. But if mainstream organisations weren’t making vaguely cringeworthy attempts to jump on board a particular moment, how would we know it was cool at all?

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.