After a humiliating General Election result, the British Conservative party are today trying to secure a working relationship with the small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), in order to secure a Parliamentary majority and form a Government.
The election result is seen as a chastening personal failure for current Prime Minister, Theresa May, who has been widely lambasted for losing an election campaign where she was predicted to win a huge landslide; to one where she lost her overall majority in the House of Commons.
May’s campaign slogan had been “strong and stable”, but the election result leaves her weak and politically vulnerable. Indeed, The Guardian newpaper points out today that May “has become the butt of cartoonists’ jokes in the world’s newspapers.” Yesterday, former Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, who is now the editor of the Evening Standard, called May a “dead woman walking”.
Many commentators believe that it is only a matter of time before May is forced to resign. The internet and press are alive with what some kind of deal with the DUP will look like and the problems it might throw up, especially given the fact that the DUP has climate-denying, anti-LGBT and anti-abortion policies. Senior DUP member Sammy Wilson has called climate change a “con”.
In the hope to prop up her fading leadership, May has over the last twenty four hours undertaken a limited reshuffle of her Cabinet. One of the surprise appointments has been that of Michael Gove as Environment Secretary, who May had previously sacked.
Gove is a deeply divisive figure, who used to be Education Secretary, and was once polled as the most hated politician in the UK. He was also a prominent Leave campaigner in the Brexit debate.
Gove has long-term links to climate deniers. Greenpeace’s Energy Desk have outlined how The Vote Leave campaign group that Gove fronted “was based out of 55 Tufton Street, the hub for a handful of powerful groups — including the climate change denying Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).” When Gove battled with Theresa May for the Tory leadership, the climate denying Lord Lawson was a vocal backer too.
But it with education that Gove became one of the most vilified politicians of his generation, who attacked hard-working teachers and wanted to push privatisation. “To me, he’ll always be the man who destroyed the education system; he has failed a generation of children”, wrote one commentator in the Independent two years ago. He was widely hated by teachers across the land, with one dismissing him as “The worst education secretary in living memory.”
To make matters worse, when Education Secretary, Gove attempted to remove climate change from the curriculum. This led to a secondary student, Esha Marwaha setting up an online petition outlining: “Climate change is the most pressing and threatening issue to modern day society …. It is outrageous that Michael Gove can even consider the elimination of climate change education for under 14s. We must keep climate change in our curriculum in order for young people to be as skilled and informed to take on this challenge as we are taking it on today.”
Ultimately Gove was forced to back down.
So it is unsurprising that political commentators and environmentalists have reacted with dismay at Gove’s appointment. Caroline Lucas, the UK’s only Green MP, tweeted: “Beggars belief. One look at Gove’s voting record shows him unfit for this job”.
She added: “His record of voting against measures to halt climate change and his attempt to wipe the subject from our children’s curriculum show him entirely unfit to lead our country in tackling one of the greatest threats we face.”
When leading the Brexit campaign, Gove said that the pledge to “take back control” could allow Britain to scrap “absurd” rules such as the European Commission’s Habitats Directive. “If there are regulations which hold any business here back, we now have the potential to amend or even if necessary rescind them,” Gove said.
His green voting record is not great either. He has generally voted against climate change measures and voted to sell off the UK’s publically owned forests, and in faovur of badger culling. He also backed a measure to allow fracking in national parks.
Environmentalists should also worry about Gove’s links with Trump and media mogul, Rupert Murdoch. Earlier this year, Gove posed with Trump giving the “thumbs up” in a widely ridiculed “toe-curling” picture, with Twitter users mercilessly mocking the so-called “fan photo.”
Gove enjoys a close relationship to Murdoch. As Tamasin Cave and I highlighted in the book on lobbying: A Quiet word, Gove has “known Murdoch for many years and long enjoyed his financial support. Before turning to politics, he was a leader writer and home editor at the Murdoch-owned The Times. Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, has also written for the paper for many years. When Gove became an MP in 2005, The Times topped up his Parliamentary salary for four years with a £60,000-a-year column.”
Gove and Murdoch were keen to push the privatisation of British schools. According to the Guardian “One of Murdoch’s long-term projects is what he calls a ‘revolutionary and profitable’ move by his media companies into online education. Gove would be a key figure in any attempt to penetrate the British schools market.”
Gove cannot shake off Murdoch’s long shadow: Earlier today, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson wrote to Theresa May asking whether “Rupert Murdoch ever suggested to you Michael Gove should be given a ministerial role?”
It is no wonder environmentalists are worried: Tom Burke, from the green think tank e3g, says: “The environment is something young voters really care about. If the Tories want to reconnect with the youth surge, this is about the worst option they could have chosen.”