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Gove on Thatcher's record and legacy: "Social bonds need to be nurtured more carefully"

by Paul Goodman
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Gove IDCC9George Osborne was first off the blocks to commemorate Margaret Thatcher, doing so in the Times (£), and Owen Paterson was second, doing so on this site.  Other have followed since, and all have been laudatory.  Michael Gove has held back until today, despite being seen by many admirers of Thatcher as the Cabinet Minister who, in government, has followed in her footsteps most closely, for three main reasons.

First, he's had more executive impact than any other Cabinet Minister - thus making an impact, as she did.  Second, he's done so at Education, a department often seen as having institutional centre-left sympathies; certainly it was certainly a department which frustrated and tamed her when she was herself Secretary of State.  Finally, his free schools policy in particular is winning converts for conservatism, or at least a hearing for its views and values in places where it previously hasn't always had one.  Gove has learned Thatcherite lessons about raiding behind the opposition's lines and reaching "the rising class".

His piece behind the Times paywall is therefore all the more interesting because it is the least hagiographical of all those that have appeared to date.  Gove acknowledges his early socialism, but writes that by the time he went to University he knew that "while half the world was ruled by tyrannies and totalitarian cliques, Britain had a leader determined to liberate them" - a nod to his still-undimmed neo-conservative take on foreign policy.

However, he adds that "the attitude of my generation of Conservatives is now more complex." Why? Because the transition from a manufacturing economy to a modern one meant that the Eighties were "years of loss and sorrow for millions".  The Education Secretary says that "social bonds need to be nurtured more carefully", and lauds the values of "care, nurture and solidarity that protect the vulnerable at times of change".

The sum of the article is that while some Conservatives of his generation saw Thatcher as "mother", the grown-up course for them now is to go their own way - acknowledging, as adults must, that while children should honour their parents, they must also live their own lives.  It is a strikingly bold and critical take - Thatcherite in breaking a cosy consensus; confirmation that Gove likes to go his own way, and risky, in terms of his relationship with the party's right.


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