Those who thought that Young Dave had finished his clearing out of older ministers last night have now been disabused of that notion, as the joyous news has emerged that Michael “Oiky” Gove has been removed from the Department for Education and sent to become Chief Whip, which latter move is a sly and ever-so-slightly devious play by the Prime Minister.
Yes, YOU, "Oiky" ... you're out
Why so? Ah well. There is no-one better at briefing those who scrabble around the dunghill that is Grubstreet than “Oiky”, and the threat of setting the less charitably minded part of the Fourth Estate onto those MPs who have difficulty doing as Cameron wishes is not only a potentially very effective way to keep them in line, it also requires very little time and effort to be expended.
But the most significant part of this move is that the most polarising Education Secretary for some decades has been turfed out less than a year before a General Election. Cameron is going to need every vote he can lay his hands on, with his party steadily shipping members and many traditional Tory supporters either defecting to UKIP, or literally dying off.
Getting rid of Gove from Education satisfies two criteria: one, it signals that, whatever the spin about how wonderful recent reforms were – and much of that was generated by Gove shooting his mouth off to his press pals – the much-vaunted Free Schools programme had gone more than a billion notes over budget, and the supposed driving up of standards was not being seen.
And the second criterion satisfied by seeing off “Oiky” is that some of the teaching profession might see that as sufficiently conciliatory to move them back to the Tory fold. As Adam Bienkov has pointed out this morning, “In 2010, the Tories had a small opinion poll lead among teachers. Four years later, Michael Gove had converted that to a 40% deficit”. Mike Smithson at Political Betting provided the graphic.
This matters, and matters beyond the votes cast by those in the teaching profession. These are community leaders, opinion formers: their take may influence parents rather more than what they read in the papers. So Cameron has replaced “Oiky” with Nicky Morgan, but as she is anti-abortion and against same-sex marriage, that may not be sufficient to bring all those teaching votes back.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for the loathsome Toby Young and his pals, seeing their great hero sacrificed on the altar of actual popularity. Tobes will be inconsolable this morning, which is why so many of us are beaming from ear to ear as we see “Oiky” rightly shuffled off, the only downside being that it should have happened a lot earlier. Hopefully Ms Morgan will concentrate on children’s education, not spin.
Yes, the preposterous ministerial reign of “Oiky” is over. Let joy be unconfined.