Gove. Getty Images Photograph: Getty Images

John Rees looks at the meaning of the Cabinet reshuffle

Lovers of world literature, students of history, opponents of Islamophobia, anti-war activists, supporters of the Palestinians, trade unionists, teachers and parents united in celebration as Michael Gove was dumped as Education Minister. He’s been given the post of Chief Whip where he will only attend Cabinet by invitation.

Gove’s longed for departure holds some important lessons for trade unionists and activists.

The first and most important is this: Gove’s departure is a victory for social movement trade unionism. It shows that a political campaign combining protest, street action, petitioning, marches and strikes can unseat the heir apparent of the Tory right.

Its a vindication of the strategy for which the People’s Assembly and the NUT and other unions have been arguing. No doubt NUT membership will increase as a result and, as everyone can see the confidence of activists in the movement has just risen a step or two.

Only a few months ago Gove was being talked of as the next Tory leader. Not now. And being Chief Whip means he is not as free to speak out because his job is to keep the rest of them in line. He’s the nastiest of a nasty lot and he’s been demoted.

Of course, the rest of them are still there and we need to keep fighting. This isn’t the end of the battle, let alone the end of the war. But we shouldn’t fall for the spin that the Tories and sections of the media are trying to sell us. They say Cameron would have done this anyway and its all just a clever manoeuvre. 

It’s always a temptation on the left to think that the elite are smart and nothing we do matters. But Gove was sidelined because he was too unpopular to sustain in post. And he was unpopular to an important degree because activists singled him out and campaigned against him. 

Labour figures and media commentators are joining in the ‘it makes no difference’ chorus. Some in Labour wanted Gove to remain as an easy target in the run up to the election and they are busy showing, rightly, that the cabinet is still right wing. But it does them little credit to diminish the importance of downing Gove for electoral considerations. And some of the new right wing appointments are precisely to calm the Driza-Bone Tories after the removal of their standard bearer from the Cabinet.

I don’t like Nick Robinson of the BBC but, as a Tory himself, I guess he’s got this right: 

“It will be seen by some as a demotion as Mr Gove will no longer be a full cabinet member, just have the right to attend meetings when required. He now continues not as a leading Tory figure in his own right but as ‘a friend of David and George’

His first job would appear to be to help them win the election. His second to make sure Boris and his old sparring partner Theresa May aren’t the next Tory leader.”

Meanwhile, William Hague’s departure is being little commented on. The motives remain obscure but Hague is the man who left the UK without a foreign policy in either the Middle East or the EU…ie without a foreign policy! It was Hague’s Syria policy that led to Cameron’s greatest, to date, Commons failure last August.

Tories don’t like being forced not to be able to unreservedly back US foreign policy. And if, from a Tory point of view, Hague wasn’t sacked for that he should have been sacked for not telling Cameron that opposing Juncker as head of the EU would lead him with one supporting vote in the entire EU. True, Hague’s replacement, Philip Hammond is on the right, but he has fewer presentational skills than Hague. And he’s being left with a foreign policy disaster sitting in his lap.

The left should not overestimate when we achieve something, but we shouldn’t diminish it either. From what I hear, in staff rooms up and down the country teachers themselves are clear that to have removed Gove from control over the schools is a victory.

Of course, all victories are partial and temporary this side of socialism! But the most important gain is the feeling of confidence among activists, especially NUT activists. This makes the next battle easier for us, more difficult for the Tories.

John Rees

John Rees is a writer, broadcaster and activist, and is one of the organisers of the People’s Assembly. His books include ‘The Algebra of Revolution’, ‘Imperialism and Resistance’, ‘Timelines, A Political History of the Modern World’, ‘The People Demand, A Short History of the Arab Revolutions’ (with Joseph Daher), ‘A People’s History of London’ (with Lindsey German) and The Leveller Revolution. He is co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition.

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