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Thursday, June 21, 2012 

Michael Gove is a tit.

You'd have thought that David Cameron would be used to the whole media strategy thing by now. Something you simply don't do is pass comment on individual tax cases, or if you find yourself having to then you don't then describe that individual's affairs as being "morally repugnant". This is the equivalent of declaring that it's open season on anyone with questionable tax arrangements, which unsurprisingly includes a rather large amount of people who've donated to the Conservatives or are otherwise associated with the party. Like Gary Barlow, given an OBE at the weekend, and who Cameron, err, refused to pass comment on, on the ludicrous grounds that the full details on his case were not yet known. Or Philip Green. Or Lord Ashcroft.

One suspects that Cameron doesn't much like Jimmy Carr, and as he had mocked the tax dodging of Barclays as one of the hosts of the dire 10 O'Clock Live, he went for what he imagined would be a popular intervention without thinking through the consequences. It's certainly true that Carr is an unfunny turd, and it's no surprise to find that he's a hypocrite, especially considering his reputation for hosting almost any corporate gig, but he's hardly the most egregious offender when Philip Green avoided paying £300m in tax on the obscene £1.2bn dividend paid to his wife, domiciled in Monaco, or indeed when the likes of Vodafone and Goldman Sachs have had their tax dodges accepted in good humour by HMRC. It also strikes as just a little bit rich (ho ho) when the same government that's imposing austerity makes it known that the most well off should pay less in tax at the precise time that those with the broadest shoulders should be bearing the greatest burden. What example does that set to the likes of Mr Carr when informed, as he puts it, that he could pay less and it was entirely legal?

As for being morally repugnant, morals as so often in politics shouldn't come into it. It should be a simple matter of right and wrong: regardless of your views on how your taxes are spent, and you can after all express your opinion on that at the ballot box, those who have been successful owe that success not just to their upbringing but to those who have supported them every step of the way, often employed by the state.

Someone who clearly does get media strategy is Michael Gove, who of course used to be a hack. Which paper do you chose to leak your secret plan for reverting to O-Levels to? Why, to the Daily Mail of course, the only newspaper that continues to believe we ought to return to those halcyon days of the 1950s. Delighted to get a genuine scoop, they wrote it up in the most glowing of terms: at last, an end to "Mickey Mouse" courses and dumbing down, of grade inflation and media studies! Who cares that there are currently thousands of students still sitting their GCSEs, effectively informed that all their work has been for nothing as their certificates will essentially be worthless, seeing as employers have apparently lost faith in them? It used to be that every year when the number of passes increased it was the media that complained of how this proved that the exams were easier, as it simply couldn't be possible that our kids are smarter than us, could it? Now it's the education secretary himself doing it.

This isn't to pretend that there aren't problems with secondary education, and one half of Gove's proposals are sensible: having only one exam board set a particular GCSE across the country will ensure that they can't be accused of making them easier in an attempt to get schools to set theirs. Spectacularly stupid though is returning to a system that will at 14 leave the "less intelligent" students only able to receive the equivalent of a D. At the moment they can be entered into foundation papers at the discretion of the teacher, with the possibility of then sitting highers if they ace them, giving the student the chance to show they've improved; under Gove's plans this wouldn't be possible. As Fiona Millar points out, if Gove really wanted to be radical he'd dig out Mike Tomlinson's old report, which proposed an all purpose diploma encompassing vocational qualifications as well as GCSEs and A-levels, allowing students to progress at their own pace. Instead he's relying on the worst aspects of Blairism: reform for the sake of his own ego, and cynical, self-defeating use of the media.

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