Gove’s ‘nanny state’ epiphany?

MICHAEL Gove has hit the headlines with a substantial speech on health, education and relationships. It’s actually quite thoughtful and worth reading .

It’s a pity, therefore, that he (deliberately?) attracted media attention to a small part of the speech focusing on so-called “lads’ mags”. Here’s what he said:

“That’s why I believe we need to ask tough questions about the instant-hit hedonism celebrated by the modern men’s magazines targeted at younger males. Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available. The images they use and project reinforce a very narrow conception of beauty and a shallow approach towards women. They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude.”

But what does he mean by the phrase “we need to ask tough questions”? That a future Tory government would regulate the content or sale of such magazines? That would be absurd, and would hardly fit with his party’s claimed libertarianism. But why raise the issue in the first place if he doesn’t want to do anything about them?

In fact, he’s being very – and predictably – clever by burnishing his party’s feminist credentials (now, who would have thought that sentence would ever be written?) and recognising valid concerns about this particular medium while at the same time using a phraseology that doesn’t commit him or his party to lifting a finger to do anything about it.

More mood music. Clever mood music, but nothing more than mood music, nonetheless.

I’ll add one caveat to that: clever, but only if you’ve already written off the demographic who actually buy these magazines and everyone else who will worry that a Tory government might usher in an unwanted and ineffective era of moral crusading. Major’s “back to basics”, anyone?



Filed under Conservative Party, Media, Michael Gove, Politics, Society

15 responses to “Gove’s ‘nanny state’ epiphany?

  1. But of course, they’re not into overt regulation.They have a new Big Idea which is Nudge which is going to save the nation or at least us lower oiks, from itself/ourselves. So this would be very much nudge, nudge, wink, wink or some variation on that theme.

  2. Andrew F

    The speech, though, was frighteningly good. Not only was it well thought out, but some of it actually appealed to me. I too think that schools are entrenched by centrally planned curricula – though I don’t agree with his hints that increased private sector participation would solve this. And some of the policy ideas were actually left wing! – for example, increasing differentials in the money per child in impoverished areas compared to wealthy areas. (My dad, a headteacher in an affluent part of Sussex, hates that. :p) He generally sold the idea of expanding opportunity quite well.

    Of course, I hated the way he quickly implanted school vouchers, and didn’t address the fact that the only people such a scheme would help are already well-off.

    The moralistic stuff was drivel. His statistics, for instance, on the ‘benefits of the family’ are hard to take seriously . Marital (or relationship) breakdown is far more common among certain demographics.

    He also showed his true colours with a few paragraphs of admiration for class structure, and even direct references to authority. That, clearly, is ideologically despicable.

    But in the opening few sections he made a far better attempt to sell the Conservative vision of ‘society’ – sometimes they sound like they invented the concept – than anyone else I’ve read/heard. Cameron sells it as the government getting out of the way and letting the voluntary sector and free market solve the world’s problems. That’s cold and doesn’t work. Gove’s thesis on relationships was, at least superficially, more plausible and approachable.

  3. Auntie Flo'

    I agree with you on this ‘lads’ Mags’ speech of Michael Gove’s, I was surprised by these comments and hope more thought is given to this anti-libertarian idea.

    However, I don’t believe Gove has said this merely to attract the feminist vote. I remember all too well that Gove was one of the founder members of IWAR, I Want A Referendum.

    IWAR funded referendums on the Lisbon Treaty in each region which produced a stunning majority of c 80% of those who voted against the Treaty and for a national referendum.

    It’s thanks to Gove, other Conservatives, some brave and principled Labour MPs and good old Derek Scott, that some of us were able to exercise our democratic right to a vote on this major constitutional change.

    Those MPs who voted to ratify the Treaty should hang their heads in shame. For as Tony Benn said, they were shamefully giving away powers to the EU which were not theirs to give. Those powers belong to all of us, not a to small Westminster elite.

  4. Auntie Flo'

    I went to Westminster as part of a mass lobby calling on our MPs for a referendum on the Treaty.

    To his great credit, Tony Benn came and queued with us in support of the lobby. What a great and genuine person he is, little wonder he’s so well loved.

    I and others from my constituency queued for hours then waited for about 2 hours in the central lobby to see our Labour MP. He didn’t come to speak to us and as we hadn’t had a drink for hours we gave up waiting.

    One of those from our town was a woman of 83 who flew lancaster bombers during the war. She must have walked miles that day, I don’t know how she managed it.

  5. Auntie Flo'

    Woops, sorry, the female pilot was in her late 80s, not 83.

  6. The idea that any party would court the ‘Nuts’ demographic is sort of laughable so yes, I suspect he has already written them off.

    There are more votes to be had in striking this pose (and yes, it’s probably just a pose) than there are in some of the libertarian nonsense we’ve seen in response to it….

  7. Johnny Norfolk

    Pot calling kettle black springs to mind.

  8. I heard Mr Gove on the wireless and had to smile about his comments on decentralising control of schools etc. This is a common Tory theme – “remove the dead hand of Whitehall / town hall bureaucrats etc.” – which overlooks the reality that their great heroine Mrs Thatcher was probably the most centralising of PMs Britain has ever had.

    Tories are the first to complain about “postcode lotteries” when decisions are actually devolved. The consequence of local decision making is inevitable variation in service levels. Listen to Mark Harper, the Hon Member for the Forest of Dean, going on about the differences in the health services his constituents who receive services from the Welsh NHS get as compared with the majority who get services from the English NHS. And he as a good Tory boy is, in theory at least, all for de-centralisation.

    So which do they want? Common standards and measurably consistent outcomes or some sort of shambolic laissez faire free for all?

    And as for the notion of Tories wanting teachers to be in control of schools – you have to laugh. Are these the same Tories who drone on in saloon bars about teachers being left wing dropouts intent on filling our children’s heads with pro-gay, atheistic, socialist ideals?

    Don’t get me started on the folly of putting doctors in charge of hospitals. Would Tories really want highly trained medical professionals carrying out all the management and administration tasks (for which they have no training or vocation) that are needed in a complex modern hospital?

    It’s all part of the Tory attempt to appeal to people who wish that life were simpler than it really is and who get spooked by complexity. Labour really need to wake up and challenge the blatant inconsistencies, hypocrisies and over-simplifications in the Tory case…

  9. Jane

    I read the speech which was very good and what I would expect from Michael Gove (I do admire him). Some of the content was reminiscent of Tony Blair/Lord Adonis’s views on education which somehow seem to have been now lost.

  10. Madasafish

    When I get my haircut – which sadly is needed less often these day 🙂 – I read these magazines. Similar ones were avaliable when I was a teenager but they were then aimed at adults and much more expensive..

    It’s all very well criticising the Tories for “moral crusades” – and I for one am no great supporter – but anyone who looks at our society can see there are major issues with parenting, kids with knives, drugs,obesity etc.

    It is difficult for any political party to deal with these effectively. Labour have tried to their credit – but unfortunately have managed to sound hectoring and with PC overtones… see the obesity letters to parents as a classic example…

    But soemthing has to be done: With a NHS, an increasing amount of money is being spent on mindless self harm : drinking , drugs, : policing on knife crime etc..

    So what to be done? I cannot see the state continuing to be able to AFFORD free care for all those who basically continue to self harm. (Forget the last decade: the next one is going to be MUCH tougher as growth will be lower and living standards lower).

    Some kind of targetted message must be sent backed i suspect with soem kind of sanctions for persistent offenders and a carrot for those who kick their self destructive ways. What I have no idea.

    But one thing is for sure: as a society the current path is not one to continue on: and the costs of repair are becoming unacceptable..

  11. I suspect the Tory logic goes something like this:

    Bribing couples to get/stay married encourages a 1950s family values mindset


    Enouraging greater personal responsibility by lowering taxes & reducing the size of the nanny state (or “cutting services” as we call it) empowers families to act on their values


    Decreased societal tolerance of such magazines and increased taboo attached to reading them

    Of course, the problem with that logic is that it’s nonsense.

  12. madasafish

    “Of course, the problem with that logic is that it’s nonsense.”

    I agree: but you wrote it 🙂

  13. Chris Gale

    Leaving aside the politics, the magazines that now seem to pass as ‘normal’ are deeply degrading and dehumanising. They are part of a deeply disturbing trend towards an ‘anything goes’ society where blatant materialism and ultra libertarianism has merged with the selling of sex as a commodity. Violence, aggression, sexism and pornography are seen as normal.
    We should all be asking where society is going with this trash.

  14. Chris Gale, “dehumanising” is the right word.

    I got an email from someone at one of these dirty mags (calling them lads’ mags is being too kind) asking if I would like to talk about my business for an article and they would reward me by printing my web address.

    I checked the magazine’s website and was disgusted by what I saw. There was even an article that suggested women should get drunk to help them have one night stands.

    I turned down the offer of free advertising and sent them packing with a flea in their ear!

    The problem with incremental decline of morals of course is that it can take a long time to see just how sick things have become.

    It’s not about being a prude now, but a realist. It’s gone far too far and people’s lives are being ruined.

    What can be done about the dirty mags that are now considered mainstream ‘entertainment’ and worse, sources of ‘advice’?

    Education in schools should have its emphasis on encouraging self-esteem and morals, instead of the current trend of shoving contraception and abortion ‘advice’ at children and expecting balanced adults at the end of the process.

    If youngsters are taught that ‘anything goes’ in sex, why should they not believe that the same applies to life generally?

    If they always get what they want, however sordid, and are brought up being deprived of self-control, why should they be concerned about attacking someone for their mobile phone or the contents of their purse?

    Teach young people to have enough self-respect and they will not want to be dehumanised by magazines that encourage their readership to behave like animals.

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