Today, the High Court said Michael Gove’s decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future programme was unlawful and an ‘abuse of power’.
A bad day, you would think: one which must have knocked the Education Secretary’s confidence?
It seems not. In fact, this ruling seems to have perked him up no end.
The response from Gove and his publicists at the Department of Education is strident to say the least, bristling with energy and indignation.
More than this, his choice of words reveals an air of celebration, which doesn’t entirely chime with the message from the High Court (not least the subject matter; whatever your position, this is about schools not being built).
Sounding like a football manager who looks for the positives after a defeat to nil a long way from home, he says: “I am delighted that the Judge has ruled in my favour”. To go with his peculiar interpretation of making a decision that was deemed to be both unlawful and an abuse of power, Gove chooses to add an unpleasant whiff of eau-de-gloat, picking out the following for our delectation: “…no-one should gain false hope from this decision.”
And here I was thinking that charm was supposed to be Gove’s defining characteristic.
Yet his words today are absent of anything approaching good grace. Did he really want to create the impression that this was some kind of ringing endorsement for the way he has gone about his business?
Take his statement on face value: imagine, if you can, the boy Gove high-fiving his inner circle, bumping fists with his legal team. Maybe, as we speak, he’s lining up the Sambuca’s for his press officers (or, depending on when you read this, staring regretfully at a fry-up). Feel the bile, the nausea, rise in your stomach.
Is this really a time for celebration: can a ruling on such a subject warrant a reaction of this kind?
His words, released soon after the judgement, contain no attempt to acknowledge that this legal action was sincerely taken, by people who had worked long and hard to secure new funding for a school on their patch and by people who were profoundly disappointed, upset even, when the funding rug was pulled from under their feet.
Even if we accept Gove’s argument that the programme was bureaucratic and long-winded, it is distasteful to so keenly rub the noses of those who actually managed to navigate the process and have merely had the audacity to challenge his judgement using fair, democratic and lawful means.
It is remarkable, too, how easily Gove dismisses the Judge’s view that he took little notice of his ‘equalities responsibilities’ when making his decision, as if a criticism like this is mere dust on the anointed one’s shoulder, to be flicked to the floor. I thought he cared deeply about equalities? He has said so often how miffed he is that poor kids do less well than rich kids. Yet, when taken to task on how distant his policies are from his rhetoric, the shoulders shrug; he appears not to give a hoot.
There is no doubt in my mind he will reach the same decision when these projects are next put before his eyes. Like a latter-day Roman Emperor, keen amidst the blood-letting to demonstrate his humanity, he may allow one or two to survive and run free. But how damning of the man that, it seems – if we are to judge his words today – he looks forward to the moment without any regret or modesty. He awaits the final kill with a glint in his eye. His thumb, already outstretched, is pointing to the ground.