In all the furore over the Eastleigh by-election, there was a lot of punditry going on, and a lot of interviews. But it was this little gem which caught my eye, on Friday morning’s Today Programme. In an interview with Education Secretary and child-catcher impersonator Michael Gove, I heard this exchange:
Justin Webb: “Do you need to be as rude as the Prime Minister has been [about UKIP] in the past…?“
Michael Gove: “Firstly, the Prime Minister is one of the politest people I know. Secondly, I think there should be less rudeness in politics overall.“
Interesting, no? What was being referred to here was David Cameron’s description of UKIP as:
“[UKIP are] a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.“
Now regular readers will know that Mr Cameron doesn’t say a great deal that I agree with, but here I think he’s right on the money. The description seems cuttingly accurate about Nigel Farage’s cult of personality, and if you think I’m wrong I’d suggest you give this a read.
But far more interesting than what Cameron thinks of UKIP, is Mr Gove’s assertion that the Prime Minister is one of the politest people he knows. Presumably he then thinks that Mr Cameron is a force for the reduction of rudeness in politics which he says he wants.
Which is a little confusing, to say the least. Surely the Education Secretary cannot be referring to the same Rt Hon David Cameron MP who resorted to sexist put-downs at Prime Minister’s Questions, aimed at a female Labour MP:
“…he’s now a GP. [To Angela Eagle] Calm down dear, calm down, calm down. Listen to the doctor!“
Perish the thought. Equally, Michael couldn’t have been referring to the same David Cameron who turned that sexism-tinged patronisation towards one of his own party members:
“I know the honourable lady [Nadine Dorries, then-Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire] is extremely frustrated… [raucous laughter] I’m going to give up on this one!“
No, that can’t be the man Mr Gove refers to. Similarly, “one of the politest men” that Mr Gove knows couldn’t be the person who told veteran MP Dennis Skinner — one of the sharpest MPs in the house — that he was too old and should retire:
“Well, the honourable gentleman [Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover] has the right at any time to take his pension, and I advise him to do so.“
If that is what passes for polite these days, then maybe the Daily Mail is right, and we are seeing the death of manners in our society. Then again, given that Michael Gove has been summoned before the Education Select Committee to answer questions over what he knew about bullying allegations levelled at — and apparently covered up — one of his key advisors, maybe Mr Gove’s interpretation should not be taken at face value.