Conservative Diary

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Gove's passion: for schools, Syria - and democracy everywhere

By Paul Goodman

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Andrew Gimson has correctly fingered David Cameron's temperament as Anglican, which makes it very different from Michael Gove's Manichean-flavoured one - of which the latter's view of foreign affairs is a reminder. This helps to explain why, although the Prime Minister and Education Secretary are friends, Gove almost certainly won't be sent to the Foreign Office in any second Cameron-led government. It's true that in opposition, Cameron tilted towards an interventionist-sceptic view of the world, and in government has tiled away from it again, as his actions in Libya and aspirations for Syria show. However, this makes him even less likely than before to send Gove to King Charles Street. He needs a Foreign Secretary who can sell intervention, if necessary, to a instinctively resistant Party - a role that William Hague could have played over Syria had he indicated more caution than the Prime Minister. The Education Secretary is not that person. If that second Cameron-led Government happens, Gove will be a candidate for the Home and not the Foreign Office.

What prospects he had of going to the latter have not been improved by his anger in the Commons during the Syria vote. Obviously, he shouldn't have shouted at MPs of any party. Then again, we've all been there, or at least some of us have. (I have lost my temper in the Commons - the then Labour Government was evading some Parliamentary questions I'd tabled - and a fat lot of good it did me.) As a fellow Euro-sceptic, I'm extremely sorry that Gove is unlikely to make the transition. He would shake the Foreign Office up a treat as few other Cabinet Ministers could so, if any. But as an intervention-sceptic, I'm rather relieved. I worry that as Foreign Secretary he would embroil us in some war in which we were better not embroiled. But that's the point above Gove: you have to take a few smooths with the rough, as Anatole the chef says in those Wodehouse novels. The same passion that drives his education reforms, on which he expounds in this month's Standpoint, drives his foreign policy belief that democracy is for everyone.

By democracy, I don't just mean voting - though the right of peoples to vote their governments in and out is certainly part of the Education Secretary's credo. I mean, rather, that cultural bundle that makes voting meaningful: the rule of law, Parliamentary government, judges that can't be bribed, a free economy, strong civic institutions, rights for minorities who don't always have rights - such as gay people, religious minorities, and women. (Yes, I know women are not a minority, but you take the point.) This liberal democracy is usually identified with "the West", and Gove knows and loves the western tradition. But he believes it is racist to hold that liberal democracy isn't transferable, wrong to think that the rest of the world doesn't want it, and right to back its spread, if necessary, by force of arms. By contrast, I agree with the David Cameron of opposition who said that you can't just "drop democracy out of an aeroplane at 40,000 feet". But whoever's right or wrong, you must let Gove be Gove, if you want him at all (which you should) - and want the best out of him. Like you, like all of us, he is as he is.


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