The pernicious influence of Goveian militarist clap-trap

As far back as March 2010, and that’s before he was enstooled at the DfE, The Times was mocking Michael Gove as a “meerkat“.  It’s not just the facial expressions: the constant self-grooming and sublime self-confidence are ever reminding of the fabulous Alexandr Orlov:

aleks_trans

Things, of course, have gone from bad to worse. However, Anne Treneman has his service number:

New Year, New Gove. It seems that over the Christmas break Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has been busy turning himself into a military man or, in his case, meerkat.

Field Marshal Gove, of course, is currently re-fighting World War I:

He condemned the widely held view that the prosecution of the war was “a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite” as the misrepresentation and myth-making of “dramas such as Oh! What a Lovely WarThe Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder” and “left-wing academics” such as Sir Richard Evans, regius professor of history at Cambridge. In fact, he denounced Sir Richard’s views as “more reflective of the attitude of an undergraduate cynic playing to the gallery in a Cambridge Footlights revue rather than a sober academic contributing to a proper historical debate”. A dismissive comparison indeed coming from a man who thinksBlackadder is a drama.

Evans himself, Tony Robinson and shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt all returned fire and even Margaret Macmillan, a historian praised by Gove, responded coolly saying: “You take your fans where you get them, I guess… but he is mistaking myths for rival interpretations of history.” Meanwhile, a fellow Tory member of the government said that “Michael should get back in his box”.

“Michael should get back in his box”

Ouch! And double ouch! What interpretation could possibly be lurking there? Here’s an unboxed clue:

2_0_ctm_meetthemeerkats-02_v21

Nosology

Nothing to do with the snout, but the “study of diseases”. In this case a verbal dysentery, “an inflammatory disorder of the mouth”.

When Gove shouted “Rule Britannia,”
When he’d sung “God save the Queen,”
When he’d finished killing Evans with his mouth,

Mark Wallace at the ConHome cheer-leader squad donned the brass-hat and the red tabs, and contracted Gove’s ailment.  His piece is thin as gossamer, but the rhetoric is instructive: “invade new territory”, “stronghold is collapsing”. ” new campaign”, “dodgy generalship”, “core territory”, “solid supply lines”, “drive his divisions”, “own fortress”, “sallying forth”, “super weapons”, etc., etc.

Don’t you just feel the military metaphors are a trifle overdone? It’s party — even partisan — politicking, for heaven’s sake! Not the drums of total war, June 1941 and Fall Barbarossa.

Surely we should always be suspicious of such strained, purplest prose: it generally disguises threadbare argument. It may encourage the troops (which, apart from providing a jam-pot for the Kippers to buzz around in, is what ConHome is about), but we deserve something better, more solid than either Wallace or Gove, in their separate ways, provide.

Praise the lord and pass the ammunition

That was the thought that came to mind, reading Wallace.

It seemed a trifle Kiplingesque. But, no, it is as recent as 1942, and comes from Frank Loesser:

Down went the gunner, a bullet was his fate,
Down went the gunner, and then the gunner’s mate.
Up jumped the sky pilot, gave the boys a look,
And manned the gun himself as he laid aside the Book,

Shouting …

Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!
And we’ll all stay free!

Praise the Lord and swing into position!
Can’t afford to be a politician!
Praise the Lord, we’re all between perdition
And the deep blue sea.

So, two lessons here:

1. The war-talk is precisely what turns folk off political discourse. It’s unreal. It’s extreme. It’s contrived. It’s hysterical.

If political commentators or practitioners have something of point to say, that should be enough. Henry V before Harfleur, they are not. Today’s PMQs were instructive: Cameron seems to have relapsed into his shrill hectoring mode (his only alternative register to his pseudo-bedside palliatives). Miliband is experimenting with a softer, more measured, more deliberate tone. Nick Robinson, on BBC2 Daily Politics, murmured that the former might cheer the troops in the Tea Room and appeal to the lobby sketch-writers, but the latter could well have wider listener appeal. We shall see.

2. The other lesson is we are still sixteen months out from a General Election.

Under normal conditions — not this artificial fixed-parliament five-year-stretch abomination — we really would be waiting for the electoral starting gun.

Even at the outset, there was general agreement (i.e. everywhere except Nick Clegg’s inner circle) that five years was too long. Even the Commons own political and constitutional reform committee saw that:

Among its main concerns was the proposed length of the Parliament, which experts suggested should be shorter.

The government had justified the length by saying it went “with the grain of some of the founding texts of our unwritten constitution” – the maximum length of a Parliament was curtailed from seven years to five in 1911.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also said it followed the previous government’s precedent and would “give any government of whatever complexion enough time to govern and deliver a programme of change and reform”.

But the committee points out that the expectation of the 1911 changes was that five years would be the maximum – and, in practice, terms were expected to be four years.

Since 1979 four general elections were called after four-year parliaments, while three, in 1992, 1997 and 2010, were called after five years.

Constitution expert Professor Robert Hazell told the committee: “Those parliaments which lasted for five years did so because the government had become unpopular and did not want to hold an earlier election.

Instead there is still 1/3rd of a normal term to go. Parliament ought to have much unfinished business: it doesn’t. It has run out of puff. Lassitude is setting in. Every MP has eyes on May 2015, marking time, sounding off, filling in the voids, fretting on the majority. Among Tories, Item One is the inroads UKIP might make, particularly coming off a high in the Euro-poll.

In that sixteen months there is still ample room for umpteen mood-shifts either way. Writing off any — any — party (as Wallace does with contempt) and its leadership so prematurely is prejudging the case.

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1 Comment

Filed under Ann Treneman, BBC, Britain, broken society, ConHome, David Cameron, democracy, education, Elections, History, Lib Dems, Michael Gove, Nick Clegg, Nick Robinson, politics, Times, Tories., World War 2

One response to “The pernicious influence of Goveian militarist clap-trap

  1. Doubting Thomas

    I wonder whether the remarks of Master Gove and Boris Johnson might be a measure of pre-emption against nasty chippy people like me who labour under the obvious delusion that it was posh boys like Cameron, Johnson and Osborne who sent my Grandfather, his brother and another Great Uncle to their deaths in that war.

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