Who is UK’s new Ag Minister? Say Hello to Michael Gove

A new high  profile politician has taken over in the UK ministry which covers agriculture, food, rural affairs and the environment. His name is Michael Gove. He was central to the Brexit push, is famous for his statements about experts, has links to US Neocons including the American Tea Party  – so unsuprisingly he doesn’t seem too keen on environmental regulations. He also seems to favour a very neoliberal model of farming. Below, we repost a recent blog by Miles King, with a selection from another of his blogs, which will give you a flavour of the new man at the helm of the UK ministry. Miles King is also CEO of People Need Nature (you can donate here).

Michael Gove at Policy Exchange (CC BY 2.0)

I wrote about Michael Gove’s surprise arrival as Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. There is so much more to write about this, but time is limited and I will not be able to cover everything in one piece.

Gove obviously has achieved notoriety amongst the Education establishment, by driving through unpopular reforms to the National Curriculum and to the testing regime. As these reforms have only recently been implemented, the benefits, or damage they cause will only become clear in the years to come.

As a parent with children in the education system I will see personally what Gove (and his comic-book villain sidekick, Dominic Cummings) has done for the future of my family, aside from his (and Cummings’) leading role in Brexit.

His subsequent stint at the Ministry of Justice was too short for him to have achieved anything, either way. Perhaps the same will be true at Defra. This Government is so inherently unstable that the likelihood of him staying at Nobel House for any length of time seems very small. If May falls (as seems increasingly likely later this year) Gove will have the opportunity for a promotion – or even another stab at the leadership. Depending on who gets in (eg a Remainer), he may also be consigned to the back benches again.

While all these hypotheticals mill around, there are some things in his background which are worth bringing to your attention.

Michael Gove is an unashamed ideologue. Unusually among the upper echelons of the Tory party he is a Neo Conservative or Neocon. By Neocon I mean someone who believes that not only should the State be shrunk as far as possible, Regulations should be removed to allow the free market to operate, but also that (American) military power should be used to impose this ideology elsewhere in the world. Notable Neocons of the past included Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior and Junior, Margaret Thatcher and arguably Tony Blair.

These days the other main senior Tory who espouses this doctrine is the disgraced former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox. It is therefore no surprise that Gove was on the council of Atlantic Bridge,  a fake charity created by Fox to foster relations between British and American Neocons. Atlantic Bridge was closed down by the Charity Commission after the revelations of Werrittygate.

Gove has been pushing the Neocon ideology for many years – here he is 2 days after 9/11, as a journalist for the Times, pushing for Iraq to be invaded. There never was a link between Saddam’s secular dictatorship and 9/11 – a recent lawsuit in the US seeks to show categorically that the attack was carried out by terrorists funded (indirectly) by Saudi Arabia.

Gove has maintained his links with the American Neo-Conservative Right, via the extremely influential thinktank the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). The AEI was established by Richard Nixon’s vice president Gerald Ford. Key individuals associated with the AEI include Charles Murray, notoriously, author of The Bell Curve which sought to show causation between race and IQ. Gove has been in thrall of AEI-fostered thinking on Education; the AEI promotes Charter Schools (= Free Schools in the UK) and the idea of education vouchers, which parents can spend on state or private schools.  Thankfully education vouchers have, so far, not been introduced here.

One of the main funders of the AEI is the Devos foundation, Betsy Devos being the heiress to the Devos fortune, which was created from the Amway direct marketing scheme. Whether  Amway is a pyramid selling scam or a legal multi-level marketing scheme is not for me to say. You’ll have to decide for yourself there’s plenty of evidence.  What is clear is that the Devos dynasty fund a lot of American Evangelical Christian Right movements and Devos is now Trump’s Education Secretary.

The AEI is decidedly lukewarm when it comes to Climate Change – and regularly hosts blogs attacking Climate Change science, or action. The AEI is also strongly pro-deregulation and pro shrinking the state.

If you think Gove is only marginally associated with the AEI think again. He spoke at the exclusive AEI global forum (held on a private island) in 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017. He was on the guest list for 2016, but was replaced at the last minute by Sajid Javid.  The AEI Global Forum is pretty secretive but there is some detail available publicly as to who attends (all the big US business owners) and who speaks. This form for a US Republican Politician attending in 2012 for a “discussion on tea party” (that’s the Tea Party) includes details about topics discussed and attendees. Gove spoke at this event, alongside David Davis, Liam Fox and Sajid Javid.

Here is the agenda for the 2016 AEI World Forum. I guess Gove was too busy with the Brexit campaign to go. You get the idea, though.

Gove is no stranger to UK thinktanks either, having been the first chair of the Board for neoliberal thinktank Policy Exchange. Gove was chair at Policy Exchange for four years. It’s worth noting that Natural England chair Andrew Sells was Policy Exchange treasurer, though it would not appear that his and Gove’s time overlapped. Nevertheless they will no doubt know each other as senior movers and shakers within the Tory party and associated networks. Sells, for example, as well as establishing Linden Homes (which by coincidence builds houses in Gove’s constituency of Surrey Heath) was also Managing Director of Sovereign Capital for 10 years. Sovereign Capital was set up by two Tory party donors, and won lucrative contracts from the Coalition Government. One of the founders of Sovereign Capital, John Nash, was appointed to the Department for Education Board in 2010. Appointed by Michael Gove.

What does all this suggest about Gove and his time at Defra?

We know Gove is ideologically wedded to a deregulatory, small-state approach. So we can expect him to promote a reduction in regulatory protection for nature and the wider environment. Gove has already made his views known about the Habitat Regulations, as they affect housing. We can assume Gove will be keen to drop as many regulations emanating from Brussels as possible, during the passage of the Great Repeal Bill.

On future agriculture policy, if he has any influence over the future direction of agriculture policy, it is likely to be closer to Owen Paterson’s view and the New Zealand model, of no or very little subsidy coupled with very little regulation. Gove’s friend from Atlantic Bridge days Liam Fox, for example, is also very keen on the New Zealand model. And, although Gove has now (for the moment) retracted his claims that Brexit will bring food prices down (thanks to the Brexit devaluation of the pound), he is still keen on lowering tariff barriers to food imports.

And this is partly the problem with Gove and trying to work out what he will do. He appears to say whatever he thinks his audience wants him to say. If he’s talking to farmers, he’ll promise them subsidies and protection against cheap food imports. If he’s talking to “green Tories” he’ll tell them he’s a shy green and that Conservatism is Conservation. If he’s talking about nature in schools he’ll say he wants to put it at the heart of the curriculum. And if he invites himself to meet the RSPB (at one days’ notice?) he assures them he is in “listen and learn” mode. One might even consider Gove to be a pure political opportunist with no fixed ideology.

But probe a little more deeply beyond this veneer and we can see that Gove does have a strong ideology – and it is being driven by his mentors on the other side of the Atlantic.

Hopefully he will not be around at Defra long enough to do any real long term damage.

Extracted from Miles King’s previous (June 12th) article on Michael Gove’s appointment

June 12th article by Miles King

Gove who famously said “I think people in this country, have had enough of experts.” 


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Gove, who believes that we should open our markets to buy cheap meat produced with GMO feed, from South America.

Michael Gove, who ridiculed the EU Nature Directives:

“I am very, very keen – I may be odd in this respect as Conservative MP – on having more homes built in my constituency. It’s a social and economic good. But homes built in my constituency are governed by the Habitats Directive,” he said.

“The Habitats Directive holds that if you build a home within five kilometres of a particular type of terrain, heathland, then you have to allocate, at the same time, something called suitable alternative natural green space to offset the environmental impact.”

He derided the rationale for such rules and said that the directive “massively increases the cost and the regulatory burden for housing development”.

“As a result my constituents, and perhaps your children find homes more expensive and mobility in this country impeded,” he added.

As I said last February (2016) Gove thinks these rules are absurd.

Andrea Leadsom had already stated that about a third of EU environmental laws would be modified or repealed, though she didnt indicate which ones were for the chop. Gove has already shown his hand as far as the Nature Directives are concerned. If you live near a heathland, expect many more houses to be built if this Government remains in power for any length of time.

One other thought – in Gove’s Register of Interests, I see he was supported in his abortive attempt to win the Tory Leadership Contest by none other than Theo Agnew, the brother of Chicken Farmer, UKIP Agriculture Spokesman and Climate Change denier Stuart Agnew. Yes, the one who claimed that action on climate change would suck Carbon Dioxide out of the air, preventing plants from growing.

Let’s hope Gove doesn’t seek “expert” advice from the Agnew family.

1 Comment

  1. I think that Michael Gove should be judged by his actions. He has already spoken against live exports, which is excellent from an animal welfare point of view. And has taken first steps to withdrawing the UK waters from the common fisheries policy, which has been disastrous for fish stocks. It is UK government action, beyond EU rules, that has brought the cod back in the North Sea — as proved by the failure of stocks to recover in the Irish Sea and elsewhere, where UK initiatives were not implemented (see Charles Clover, the Times 6 July).
    Carbon Dioxide does encourage plants to grow, and increased rate of forest growth will help mitigate CO2 emission increases.
    Although New Zealand is not a good model in itself (market forces only, not enough environmental policy), neither is the CAP.
    I fear Miles King’s article is a knee-jerk reaction against a policy maker, who may well make the right policies (the most effective in practice), but who does not stick to the green lobby script. If so, good on him: there are many who stick to the green NGO script, supporting politically correct policies that are actually counter-productive: most wind turbines will never repay their CO2 cost, and the environmental damage caused in their construction; hydro-electric has caused massive irreversible environmental damage. The country which has reduced carbon emissions most in the world is the USA through the shale gas revolution, but no ‘respectable’ green can say that. If truth is the victim of political correctness, then the green NGOs ability to influence policy will be (and is) undermined. I say this as a green NGO staffer and conservationist myself, not part of any conventional agriculture lobby group.

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