Michael Gove’s Hug of Death

By Matt Gass

So another reshuffle has come and gone. The consensus on Ed Miliband’s reorganisation has been that it solidified the leftward lurch that has been building since the Labour Party Conference. Many have described it as a Blairite cull given due to the demotion of several shadow ministers seen as centrists, such as Liam Byrne who has moved from Work and Pensions to Higher Education and Jim Murphy who has moved from Defence to the International Development brief.

Two other interesting moves have been Stephen Twigg who lost the shadow Education role and Diane Abbott who has left the frontbench entirely. Each have had their own reported problems: Diane Abbott, a former leadership rival of Miliband’s, has publicly dissented against the leadership on a number of issues and Mr Twigg has been seen as lacklustre in countering Michael Gove, particularly on Gove’s flagship Free School’s programme. It can’t have helped his case that he was name checked personally in David Cameron’s speech to the 2013 Conservative Party Conference.

“Labour’s official policy is to be against [Free Schools] but – get this – Labour MPs are backing them in their local area. And not just any Labour MPs. I promise I’m not making this up the Shadow Education Secretary – Stephen Twigg – has backed one in his own city.”

It’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for Stephen Twigg, as it turns out he needn’t have bothered. His replacement, former Historian Tristram Hunt has eecuted a 1790 turn, announcing that, while the Party still opposes free schools they would support the introduction parent-led academies, which can also be set up by teachers and “social entrepreneurs”, will face an unspecified greater level of scrutiny and are apparently completely different from Free Schools.

Cameron’s shout out though pales in comparison to the words Michael Gove saved for Diane Abbott, one former member of the shadow front bench who has never been seriously accused of being Blairite. While trumpeting the benefits of the Free School programme Mr Gove’s speech unexpectedly descended into a three paragraph love-note to Ms Abbott.

“[Disadvantaged children] need the assurance of rigorous qualifications and, if at all possible, core academic qualifications. The person who said that was Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, who’s got more sense about education in her little finger than the rest of the Labour front bench put together.

And when Diane said that in the House of Commons I said that if I had been a member of the Labour party I would have voted for her to be leader. One of my friends in the House of Commons took me aside and said ‘Michael, don’t you realise Diane Abbott was the most left-wing candidate for the Labour leadership?’.

Well, after last week I think we all know that that wasn’t true – I think we all know who the most left-wing candidate for the Labour leadership was – and he won. But it’s because as Diane Abbott has pointed out, schools are where opportunity is provided for those who have been born into disadvantage, that we have to press ahead with our reform programme.”

Was this the hug of death which really did for Diane? The position of Michael Gove’s favourite Labour MP is apparently a dangerous one. There may be a lot less to love in the shadow cabinet under Miliband’s new direction but it’s still there if you look for it. Rachel Reeves support for the Coalition’s £26,000 cap on benefits is a good place to start. I for one can’t wait to hear what IDS might have to say about that.

Matt Gass is the Online Editor for Parliament Street


Image from Telegraph.co.uk

Comments are closed.