Dear Mr Gove

You’re standing for party leadership and Prime Minister of this country so I need to ask you something. When you said ‘we’ve had enough of experts’, what experts did you have in mind? Was it an unattainable professional elite to contrast with the ‘hard working families’ you’re on the side of? You didn’t mean nurses obviously, because they’re ordinary and hardworking [and decent; we’re hearing decent a lot too]. But you probably did mean the pesky junior doctors with all their learning and knowing stuff and arguing even while they’re still called juniors and so clearly not long out of their teens. I expect you also meant the ones who get to be consultants by dint of learning even more because obviously they’re top notch experts which we know, because you told, us are neither ordinary nor hard working [and probably not, by implication, decent].

But hang on a minute, what if nurses work their way up the ladder, you know, by learning stuff, getting Master’s degrees or PhDs, or becoming specialists or researchers or even consultants? Do they stop being ordinary decent and hard working too as a consequence of knowing a lot more than most of us about stoma care or infection control or HIV or managing acute mental health crises? I know who I’d want if I needed help with any of those things and it wouldn’t be an enthusiastic amateur no matter how decent they were. By saying you’ve (sorry, “we’ve”) had enough of experts, you’ve dropped these people onto the horns of an identity dilemma – are they hard working or are they experts because it doesn’t seem possible to be both.

You’ve also dismissed out of hand the expertise of large numbers of other people, maybe because their expertise is just a tad low brow for you? After all, you don’t need to know your declensions to re-wire a house safely without leaving rat holes in the skirting boards do you? And while we’re at it, what about all those people with expertise in gas boilers, construction, plumbing? People who keep our domestic services running and safe to use? The accountants who look after our finances and know how to add up so it makes sense? I’d include teachers but you’re not that fond of them are you? In fact, I don’t think you see them either as experts or ordinary decent and hardworking, just annoying know-it-alls who won’t do as you say – possibly because they, um, know stuff? [And by the way, if you don’t like experts, what exactly was your aim for children while you were Secretary of State for Education?]

Another thing; do you think people become experts by accident – a tongue of flame perhaps? Because I can tell you [I am one], that it actually involves quite a lot of hard work; years of it often. But of course, once we become experts we lose all our credibility because we can’t claim to be ‘working class’ any more, even if we spent our early years in a one-up-one-down back-to-back with the toilet down the road. That’s because, despite being in charge of education for so long, you’re anti-intellectual and isn’t that what this is? – an attempt to deride and denigrate anyone with expertise and set them up as a ‘class’ to be despised by people who aren’t? If you made enough people feel screwed over by the experts [because maybe you thought you were when they were saying stuff you didn’t want to hear], they would listen to you instead. And they did, so well done on that. And by the way, I’m onto that tabloid journalism malarkey you used to good effect in your campaign. Single issue, no content, anchor it to something emotive like the NHS? Gotta hand it to you. Oh, look – we did.

We need experts, it’s what we invest in to keep us safe; to balance our books personally and nationally; to make strides in science, engineering and technology; to know how to fix our brakes, build buses that don’t fall apart like a clown car, and houses and offices that stay up where they’ve been put.

It’s why we favour educating our children to be aspirational and inquiring, able to think and appraise; although that wouldn’t have helped your campaign much, would it? All those critical eyes able to see through the bog fog of your promises? Better to get them reciting facts like robots with not a clue how to reflect on them.

We also want to show our young people how to be decent, humane and welcoming; to be tolerant and compassionate to others. But let’s look at what you have shown them; here’s a list:

  • How to manipulate, denigrate, and betray.
  • How to ignore people who know what they’re talking about in favour of what you want to hear.
  • How to pretend the horrific divisions we’re seeing and vile hostilities directed at ‘immigrants’ is nothing to do with you.
  • How to contribute to a cataclysmic national crisis without one word of remorse.
  • How to view people with real knowledge able to challenge empty rhetoric as valueless intellectuals, simultaneously undermining our bank of national knowledge and any ambition children might have. I won’t mention the anti-intellectual bullying that already goes on in schools and deters kids from daring to achieve. I bet you’ve helped with that with your ‘we’ve had enough of experts’, haven’t you?

You want to be Prime Minister and I’d like to think it’s so you can take full responsibility for this disaster, denouncing the referendum result as the fraudulent Lance Armstrong of politics that it was. Because how different is winning on the back of performance-enhancing lies from winning by pumping yourself full of cheating chemicals?

So, having contributed to the creation of political mayhem and triggered threats to our national security, food security, financial security, and the emergence of the most hateful and paranoid of factions within our society, I must ask you, do you consider yourself to be up to the job of PM; to have the, um, expertise? Or are you planning on flying airbus UK by the seat of your cheerfully amateur pants into the dung heap of your own making that you still can’t see? ‘Gaudeamus pig manure’, as we used to sing at our school in working class Cleckheaton.

10 thoughts on “Dear Mr Gove

  1. Thank you! I am one of those sad individuals who feel experts in all their fields add real value to me, and I offer up my thanks to you for offering a brilliant, powerful eloquent voice to counter an appalling catalogue of lies and deceit. More expert voices please!

    1. I think the sad people are the ones who believe they don’t need anyone else for anything. I hate to think what state his boiler is in; I’d have a cordon round his house if I lived anywhere near!

  2. “Expert” has gotten a bum rap, with all the “experts” trotted out by media outlets. Can’t we simply have professionals, with a little asterisk or footnote indicating how many years of practice, years of study, and number of accomplishments they’ve acquired?

  3. Michael Gove, like many politicians, has what I think of as a Daily Mail attitude towards education. This is perfectly summed up in Alan Bennett’s ‘Forty Years On’ when the headmaster says he doesn’t like the word education – he prefers ‘schooling’. It’s the idea that you learn facts so that you can pass an exam, you pass an exam so you can go to university, you go to university so you can get a job. There is, of course absolutely nothing wrong with learning facts, passing exams or getting a job, but just learning facts doesn’t mean you’ve understood what you’ve learnt or can apply it in anyway. I’m the same age as Michael Gove. We didn’t learn the dates of Kings and Queens when I was at school. Like him, I think it’s a good thing for children to learn. However, (my copy of ‘The Times Style and Usage Guide’ has no objection to ‘however’ at the start of a sentence) while he seems to think that it’s the dates that matter, I think they are worth knowing because they help give structure to far more important things like how and why those monarchs came to power and what life was like for their subjects.

    This is a somewhat long-winded way of saying that I think an expert is someone who, not only knows the facts, but can see beyond them. The doctor who not only treats disease, but empowers the patient by giving them the information they need to make informed choices – not necessarily the choice that the NHS system would like them to make. The teacher who not only teaches facts about the geography of Europe, but gives children an insight into what life is like in another country, who lets them see that people are remarkably like people everywhere, who fires their imaginations so that they think they’d like to . . . hmmm, I begin to see the problem.

    Yes, I can see why Michael Gove isn’t too keen on experts.

    1. Very well put. Looking back, I’m fairly sure we were schooled although the pressure was nowhere near so great as today and there was room for a bit of thinking. No discussion or critical debate though, that didn’t happen until I got to university nearly 20 years later and it took me to the end of my second year there to figure it out too! May be making up for that now a bit 🙂

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