Twice-Education Secretary Quintin Hogg died in 2001, however his words on ‘twitter’ are remarkably apt to today’s political context.
In his 1975 autobiography he wrote the following about his time as leader of the Conservative election strategy:
“Some of the makers of opinion are beyond reach, because they are on the other side. But before an election even these can be pressed into service. They can be made to take notice, to twitter with rage and scream in derision and, if they can be made to twitter and scream at the right things, or, rather from their point of view, at the wrong things, powerful allies can be wheeled into support from sources normally neutral, or, occasionally, even unfriendly“
Two things are remarkable about this quote. One: if you put a capital letter on the word ‘twitter’ it would make absolute sense in the context of today’s social media use. And, two: this tool has been an absolute mainstay of Gove’s time in office. He has been unbelievably canny in using soundbites to start a twitter storm of opponents shouting out against things they would otherwise normally be more sensible about, or pushing them to be more extreme in their reactions and hence framing themselves as unreasonable.
It’s a good trick, but it’s an old one. And it’s one worth bearing in mind as we head further into party conference season.
No doubt many education Secretaries have put their children through private establishments while simultaneously advocating for state schools. But to think that all politicians are inevitably hypocritical is to be overly pessimistic.
Reading Quintin Hogg’s biography last week I was stunned by a story which showed a remarkable lack of hypocrisy. It went like this:
“I joined the army by the back door in September 1939, just after war was declared. I do not wish here to say anything of my military career, which was sufficiently undistinguished. But I do make the point in my own favour that, having voted for the war in Parliament, I showed my willingness from the first to expose myself in it in an infantry battalion, and not in an administrative job, and, in the event, I did, in fact, have the honour to lead an infantry platoon in a minor battle and numerous night patrols in the desert in the summer of 1941.”
That Hogg traded his comfy Commons position for the infantry is quite a remarkable act of courage and one that restores at least a little faith in politicians. Hogg also returned home from war to find his wife ‘not alone’ but instead ‘in the company of Charles de Gaulle’s ‘Head of Staff’. That story, however, is for another day….