Why Gove had to go

This week, the prime minister, David Cameron, announced a major cabinet reshuffle, promoting several female ministers to frontline positions, and replacing some high-profile names, most notably Michael Gove, the former education secretary. The move represents the start of next year’s election campaign, as Rafael Behr notes in The Guardian.

For the Conservatives, “the task in hand is to cross the electoral finish line and, as one senior adviser puts it, ‘crush Ed Miliband, and destroy Labour as a force for government’”. Ultimately, electoral calculus explains why there are more women in the cabinet, and why Gove was moved from the post of education secretary to chief whip.

“Gove is an old friend of Cameron, but his comradeship was trumped by his focus group toxicity. He was just too unpopular to sell Tory policy to swing-voting parents,” says Behr.

“Most of the new front bench is no better and no worse than most governments in an age when politics has become largely a displacement activity for people unqualified for top jobs anywhere else,” says Max Hastings in the Daily Mail.

But Gove was the “standard-bearer for the most important reforms in British government this century” – “an undisputed Tory hero”. His removal “is worse than a crime”. Cameron “has done a bad day’s work, and he will surely live to regret it”.

Indeed, says Charles Moore in The Spectator. “This must be the worst reshuffle since Mrs Thatcher demoted Geoffrey Howe in 1989.” Cameron had managed to establish himself as a leader whose “unpopular but necessary policies were starting to work”. Now he’s “thrown that away”.

He’s singled out his most “brave and active” ministers (not just Gove, but also environment secretary Owen Paterson) for punishment, emboldening “pressure groups who hate the Tories”. He has also “target-bombed his party’s natural supporters”, including rural voters, non-greens and eurosceptics.

“It was cowardly” to move Gove, agrees John Rentoul in The Independent. “But cowardice is sometimes the better part of politics.” Gove had succeeded in his mission in any case – he “has secured the Blairite revolution by ensuring that most secondary schools will be academies by the election. He has paid a heavy political price, but Cameron’s decision… was the right one.”

At the end of the day, this is what this reshuffle is all about – the 2015 general election, says Damian Lyons Lowe of polling firm Survation, in the Daily Mirror. Gove’s lack of popularity with teachers did for him – there are around 875,000 teachers, teaching assistants and support staff in publicly funded schools.

Throw in partners, friends and family and you’re “looking at an enormous voter group”. Sacrificing him is “sensible electoral arithmetic”. Ultimately, “the reshuffle shows the Tories are trying to make the election more about personality than policy”. That’s bad news for Ed Miliband, “who cannot match Cameron’s presentational skills”.

Merryn

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