In the Commons chamber on Wednesday, Labour MP Tom Watson denounced Tory education secretary Michael Gove in terms so furious that he was obliged to withdraw them. It is already becoming a celebrated moment. One in which real anger at this government’s arrogance seemed, for the first time, to be articulated on our behalf.
If you haven’t seen it, you should first watch the video here. Then read Tom’s account, below, of how he got into that state.
It was like he was enjoying the humiliation. He wasn’t supposed to be. He was supposed to have had an epiphany – a realisation that Sandwell learners and teachers deserved better.
And during the course of my contribution he shifted a little forward on his bench, body in empathy, eyes like a puppy dog’s.
On Monday it was all very different. He was the conductor of the orchestra. And anxious Labour MPs were his instruments. And he was playing them for fools. Only Michael knew the whole tune. He knew best.
“In order to ensure that we do not waste any more money on a dysfunctional process, I am today taking action to get the best possible value for the taxpayer. I will take account of the contractual commitments already entered into, but I cannot allow more money to be spent until we have ensured a more efficient use of resources.”
He gave the impression that he’d gone through the plans for every school in scholarly detail. And having grasped the detail, he was halving the number of building schools for the future projects – more than 700 schools.
When I saw that Sandwell was safe, I was naively unsurprised. Those kids deserve it, right? However you ration investment, those schools are in desperate need of investment. A tiny part of me bristled that the last Labour government had not got around to it sooner. The work was going ahead. That was all that mattered.
The following day, dischord erupted. Michael had got his facts wrong. The department was very sorry but the some of the schools would not be receiving the investment. How many? Well, ahem, er, all of them. We tried to phone his private office. His diary secretary would get back to us. I’m still waiting.
Vernon Coaker led the charge. After 48 hours of Herculean effort by Vernon, we got the facts. Sandwell was to carry the majority of the cuts.
After what seemed like an eternity, Michael Gove was finally in the chamber about to give an explanation. He’d suffered the indignity of the Speaker inviting him to make a statement. And he was enjoying it. Enjoying the humiliation. That’s what I was thinking when I got to my feet.
I began to make my point about the intolerable way that parents and pupils had been treated. His eyes met mine. Was that a tear in a duct? Was his top lip really quivering?
He was making another bravura performance; a cadenza of sorrow.
It was like looking at bambi. So I shot him.
Tom Watson is Labour MP for West Bromwich East.