They say attack is the best form of defence. It’s obviously a mantra that was at the forefront of Michael Gove’s mind on this morning’s Today programme. In an interview with Sarah Montague, focused mainly on the speed with which the academies programme is being swept through, the Education Secretary took more than a few sideswipes at the BBC.
He started off slowly:
It’s understandable also that the Today programme and the Labour Party and others should be obsessed with “processology” . . .
What is striking is that in the course of today [speaking over Sarah Montague] the BBC have not looked at the benefits that academies have brought the very poorest children.
He builds to attacking the interviewer:
MG: It’s very revealing of your mindset, Sarah, that you believe that local authorities are the only way to improve schools.
SM [speaking over]: That is not my mindset.
He gets more explicit as his (repeated) errors on the Building Schools for the Future project are flagged up:
One of the striking things about the Building Schools for the Future project — again, I don’t think reported properly by the BBC — is the way in which it, for example, when a school was being rebuilt, specified in absurd detail the size of cycle rack or the types of plants.
Once he’s found a theme, he runs with it:
I thought it was important that we had some facts in the interview, and I thought it was important that we pointed out — as the BBC has failed to do — that in a normal construction project . . . [initial costs are lower].
And — building to a final crescendo:
I believe in value for money. It is maybe a concept that was alien to the last government and it may not be a concept that the BBC would like to see applied to public expenditure, but I believe that it is important that the taxpayer gets protection for the money that it spent on his or her behalf.
He spent so long going on the offensive that he neglected to mount much defence of the academies policy itself (except to say that “It was in our manifesto, so there’s no need for proper scrutiny now”). But it is entirely possible that that was the plan.
Gove’s line fits neatly with the Conservative narrative that the BBC is biased in favour of the left (an idea that my colleague Mehdi Hasan has argued against). The conflation of “the Today programme” and “the Labour Party” is an example of this victim mentality.
It is quite a clever technique to portray anything that challenges your view as evidence of bias (even if it is just that: a question). But Gove’s churlish manner will not have done him any favours. That final — rather spiteful — remark is just the latest hint that the BBC is next in line for some painful cuts.