Michael Gove has not had a fun time recently. The education secretary has suffered a mauling by his shadow, Ed Balls, over his plans to stop rebuilding projects for over 700 schools. Gove made a grovelling apology to the Commons two weeks ago after being forced to release several versions of a list of affected schools after each one was found to contain errors.
This weekend, things got worse for Gove, with the Tory chair of the education select committee warning the BBC that his Academies Bill was being rushed through parliament.
Perhaps all this explains why the normally charming and unflappable Gove sounded so rattled on the Today programme this morning. When Sarah Montague asked Mr Gove about the consequences of the bill, he replied:
It’s very revealing of your mindset, Sarah, that you believe that local authorities are the only way to improve schools.
He then attacked the BBC for the way it had reported the story on several occasions before climaxing in this bizarre attack:
I believe in value for money. It maybe a concept that was alien to the last government and it may not be a concept that the BBC would like to see applied to public expenditure but I believe that it is important that the taxpayer gets protection for the money that it spent on his or her behalf.
This was strange not only because of the perfectly reasonable tone and line of questioning taken by Montague but also because of the previously emollient tone Gove (a former BBC journalist by the way) has taken when under scrutiny. For instance during the campaign, he batted away a sustained John Humphrys attack with responses like this:
An elegant and creative question, John, but it left the facts behind after the first few words.
A great line, calmly delivered.
So why the change in tone? The New Statesman thinks it is part of a wider anti-BBC feeling inside the government.
But while such a feeling may exist, I’m not sure it was the driving force behind this morning’s outburst. More it seems that Gove has resorted to the same tactic so unfortunately beloved of politicians everywhere – if in doubt attack the questioner. The more doubt, the wilder the attack.
If he wants to be an effective minister, Gove will have to regain his composure.