Lurch to the right? No, a wobble in the culture wars
Published in: Melanie's blog
David Cameron’s ministerial reshuffle this week has been greeted by the predictable cries of ‘a lurch to the right’ (a reaction otherwise known as a ‘jerk to the knee’). A moment’s thought suggests in fact that the Cameron administration has lurched in a somewhat different direction.
Item: education policy. The Education Secretary Michael Gove, understanding perfectly that he had no chance of prising the education windpipe away from the deadly grip of the education establishment unless he ensured there was absolutely no weak link in his department, carefully fashioned his team to that end.
Now that all lies in ruins. His docile junior ministers have been replaced by two potentially destabilising incomers, Liz Truss and David Laws. Truss has achieved a reputation for truculence, not least in her attitude from the backbenches to Gove himself.
And while Laws shares some of Gove’s views on education, he is still a LibDem – and even more important, an intellectual hard-hitter and thus potential rival – which means he may become an egalitarian drag-anchor on Gove’s heroic reform programme. And (leaving aside the morality of bringing him back into government after his expenses disgrace) he’s been given the right to attend Cabinet, too.
No wonder Gove is reportedly furious. The last thing he can afford in his heroic battle to reform education is to fight guerrilla wars beneath his own feet.
Item: drugs policy. Anna Soubry has become a new junior health minister. Yet Soubry is on record as a drug policy liberaliser. Back in 2006, when she was merely a prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate, she told a group of sixth-formers that she wanted cannabis to be legalised. She said:
‘You need a debate because if adults are to persuade you not to take class A drugs we have to be honest about things like cannabis and alcohol. [In an open debate] you will come to the conclusion that certain types of cannabis are less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.’
Maybe Soubry has revised this idiotic and dangerous view in the light of all the research that has been made public about the devastating effect of cannabis on the brain and its contribution to psychosis and damage to cognitive function. If so, she needs to tell us that pretty damn quick. Otherwise the Prime Minister and his advisers will be guilty of a truly dire absence of due diligence -- even though at time of writing we don't yet know which health minister will take the public health/drugs brief --in giving Soubry any brief at Health.
Item: foreign policy. With a great deal of fuming and flouncing, Baroness Warsi was sacked as co-chairman of the Conservative party -- but has ended up with not one but two ministerial posts, and a right to attend Cabinet meetings. She is now minister for faith and communities, and a ‘senior minister’ at the Foreign Office with a so-far publicly unspecified brief.
Here are some remarks made by Baroness Warsi:
‘It seems to me that Islamophobia has now crossed the threshold of middle class respectability. For far too many people, Islamophobia is seen as a legitimate – even commendable – thing. You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table-test.’ (University of Leicester lecture, January 2011)
‘I think what's happened in the Middle East with the election of Hamas is actually an opportunity and I think that's the way we've got to see it. When groups that practise violence are suddenly propelled into power through a democratic process they get responsibility and responsibility can be a tremendously taming factor. And I think that Hamas, when it realises that it wants a safe and stable and prosperous Palestine for its people, will realise that the way to deal with that is through dialogue and democracy and not through violence.’ (Any Questions, January 2006)
The tightening of anti-terrorist legislation had turned Britain into a ‘police state’ and the government’s anti-terror proposals were ‘enough to tip any normal young man into the realms of a radicalised fanatic ... If terrorism is the use of violence against civilians, then where does that leave us in Iraq?’ (Report in the Times (£) of remarks by Warsi made in Asian newspaper Awaaz, 2006)
Lurch to the right? No, this reshuffle seems rather to be a worrying wobble in the culture wars.