I’m currently finishing Quintin Hogg’s “The Door Wherein I Went” which started off horribly but actually got quite good. He’s funny. Much funnier than expected.

But my mind got a little distracted yesterday when a copy of Edward Short’s “I Knew My Place” arrived. Disappointingly, the blurb says the book is only about the first ten years of his life. Not particularly useful when you’re trying to assess someone’s time in political office.

Unperturbed I flicked open the book and glanced at the first thing I saw, which just so happened to be this:

“About ten years later I was cycling to Appleby and I saw cycling up a  hill about a hundred yards ahead of me, Eddie Robson, a boy of my own  age from New Hall farm, with whom I was friendly. A huge, laden lorry pulling an equally laden trailer passed me. When it reached Eddie it had been slowed down to a crawl by the steep gradient and, no doubt wanting to save himself a lot of pedalling over the remaining mile and a half into Appleby, he got hold of a tarpaulin rope but, tragically as it turned out, on the near side of the trailer. The last I saw of him alive was when he disappeared over the brow of the hill with the lorry gathering speed.

A few minutes later I breasted the hill myself and found him lying in an enormous pool of blood, his head and the upper part of his body pulverized by the wheel which had passed over him. The unfortunate driver was quite unaware of what had happened and I was alone with the mangled body of my friend. Cars were few and far between in those days. The nearest house was only a quarter of a mile away but I could not leave him though I was sure he was dead. Scarcely knowing what I was doing, my heart going sixty to the dozen, I extricated his body from the grotesquely twisted bicycle. Some dreadful contortion one of the hand grips had penetrated his mouth and was visible through his cheek.

I straightened his body as gently as I could, loosened his shirt and tried, without hope, to find a faint heart beat. But there was nothing -only death, silence, destruction, blood. I sat on the grass verge holding his hand – in retrospect a silly thing to do.”

It was fifteen minutes before a car helped Short and took the body of Eddie down to the village. About fifteen minutes after that Short was violently sick and then he cried and cried. He wrote:

“The world on that fine morning looked very grey – not the soft diffused grey of the sky or the fells but a harsh, oppressive great, and I felt that at the heart of it all was a great well of unassuagable sorrow into which I peered that morning.”

Michael Gove2Today is Michael Gove’s birthday. Huzzah!

To celebrate, here are some facts you might not know…

  1. Michael Gove turns 46 today. This is young by Ed Sec standards. The average age on entry is 50.
  2. The only other Ed Sec to turn 46 while in post is….. Margaret Thatcher.
  3. Gove is currently the 7th longest-serving Education Secretary having recently overtaken Kenneth Baker.
  4. He has another ~160 days before he steals 6th place (from Thatcher).
  5. He is the first Ed Sec in 46 years to have previously been President of the Oxford Union. Four other Ed Secs have held that role (Quintin Hogg, Michael Stewart, Edward Boyle & Anthony Crosland).
  6. He is the second Education Secretary to be born in Edinburgh. The first was Florence Horsbrugh, born in 1889 (79 years before Gove).
  7. He is the only Ed Sec known to have been raised from birth by adoptive parents.
  8. The most common degree subject for an Ed Sec is History. Second is Politics. Gove is unique in having studied English.
  9. He shares his birthday week with past-Ed Secs Anthony Crosland and Edward Boyle (both also past-Ox Union Presidents)
  10. Gove has said he shall never stand as leader of the Conservative Party.

In 1957 Quintin Hogg reluctantly took on the role of Education Minister. He did not want it.

“I next found myself summoned by the new Prime Minister and asked to join the Cabinet as Minister of Education. After four months of office this was promotion with a vengeance. But strangely enough I was not at all pleased. I had given my heart to the Navy, and believed I was popular. Such change is not good for morale, and I was afraid that there were people who would accuse me of careerism, as of course they did.”

Hogg nevertheless says he threw himself into the role. One major problem was a pressing need for more school buildings due to high birthrates and the raising of the school leaving age. The situation facing Hogg sounds remarkably like the one facing Gove when he entered office in 2010.

“The shortage of cash was intensified by the fact that the actual expenditure on school building had to be incurred by the local authorities who were small, numerous (146 in my time, I think), sometimes absurdly self-centered, often extravagant, and competitive with one another.

I found that they were actually driving the cost of school building up in a variety of different ways. They tended to employ their own architects with the result that their design were markedly more costly than we knew to be necessary, and had none of the advantages of large-scale production, which even in a labour intensive industry like building, can greatly reduce costs.”

Hogg could have cancelled the projects, just like Gove. But he took another path. Instead he found ways to link schools with similar problems – e.g. all schools with subsidence issues worked together on one design. He did so not by telling them they had to work together, but by making them think it was their idea and giving lots of public credit for it.

“On this idea was founded the first consortium of school building and authorities and, modestly, I claim the credit for it now. The secret, I may say, was that at the time I claimed none.”

Perhaps, in 2010, if Gove had instead asked local authorities to convene the schools together and collectively they had prioritised building needs, the government could still have only given out monies now allocated for Priority Schools but it would have been based on the ideas of what local people needed, and might have encouraged co-operation that would reduce cost. It would also have been a more humane approach to deciding which young people would be stuck in squalor, than simply scrubbing names off a list inside a Westminster Ivory Tower.

Michael Gove is currently 8th in the longevity stakes however he’s only a fortnight away from overtaking Kenneth Baker and stealing 7th place* (UPDATE: By time he left, he got much further).

David EcclesThe winner of the overall leader board is actually David Eccles, who I originally placed outside the top ten on my spreadsheet (and hence yesterday tweeted that Gove was 7th). However, Eccles had two shots at the role – one stint of 809 days, another of 1004. Taken separately the periods aren’t noteworthy, but taken together the periods make him the longest-serving Education Secretary. Hence, I bumped him up (and Gove down).  Eccles also lived for the second longest time of any Education Secretary (he died aged 94, outpaced only by Edward Short who lived to be 99).

UPDATED 25/5/16: Needed to update Michael Gove

1 David Eccles 1823 (809 + 1004)
2 George Tomlinson 1719
3 Keith Joseph 1714
4 Michael Gove 1525
5 David Blunkett 1498
6 Rab Butler 1405
7 Margaret Thatcher 1353
8 Kenneth Baker 1161
9 Florence Horsbrugh 1082
10 Gillian Shephard 1057
11 Edward Balls 1044
12 Shirley Williams 967
13 Anthony Crosland 949
14 Mark Carlisle 862
15 John Patten 832
16 Edward Short 805
17 Charles Clarke 783
18 Geoffrey Lloyd 758
19 Nicky Morgan 732
20 Edward Boyle 629
21 Ellen Wilkinson 560
22 Fred Mulley 556
23 Kenneth Clarke 526
24 Ruth Kelly 507
25 Estelle Morris 503
26 John MacGregor 467
27 Quintin Hogg 444 (246 + 198)
28 Reg Prentice 434
29 Alan Johnson 420
30 Patrick Gordon Walker 221
31 Michael Stewart 98
32 Richard Law 62

The average is 851 days. Unless you count the Hogg and Eccles periods separately, in which case the average becomes a rounded 800 days.

UPDATED 25/5/16: Taking account of Michael Gove finally having got to the end this table has been re-done. The new average time in office is 863 days altogether. Or, for single periods in office, it is 810 days.

UPDATED: Taking account of Nicky Morgan’s time in office the average for single periods in office is 801 days, and 832 overall.

*NB: Throughout this site I refer to all people in the lead education role as ‘Education Secretary’ even though I realise this role, technically, didn’t come in until 1964. Before that the role was merely ‘Minister for Education’ and up until half-way through Butler’s tenure the role was performed by a ‘President of the Board of Education’. At various times the role has also expanded to including Employment, Science, Children, & so on. I use ‘Education Secretary’ as a shorthand for all these roles. Please forgive me.

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