Saturday, 15 March 2014

Hear the knives sharpening, this Ides of March

2058 years ago today, a shady politician turned up for a meeting whose importance he had probably not yet fully grasped, but soon would. 

He was there despite being warned that it was a bad day for him to do anything. Indeed, as he arrived he caught sight of the man who’d given him the warning. He turned to him and, rather too smugly as it happened, commented:

“The ides of March are come.”

To which the soothsayer replied:

“Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”

It wasn’t many minutes later that Julius Caesar lay dying at the feet of the statue his late rival Pompey. ‘Late’ in great part thanks to Caesar himself. All terribly ironic. Especially since it was men he thought he could count on who turned their knives on him.

Why did they prove the soothsayer right and turn the Ides of March into such a bad day for Caesar? They thought he was about to realise his ambition and establish his personal power in Rome. They made sure that didn’t happen.

15 March. Not a good day for Julius Caesar
Of course, things may not have gone exactly the way I described. I’m only quoting Shakespeare, and I suspect he wasn’t there. I mean, did they even speak English in those days?

Somebody who could no doubt tell us about all of that is the present Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. The man’s a bit of a classicist. He even wrote a book called The Dream of Rome which was a bit glitzy and superficial, but had its merits.

He knows all about powerful men cut down in their prime by their own supporters. So he must have had a bit of wry smile yesterday.

Because being Mayor of London’s only a consolation prize for him. What he’s got his eye on is Downing Street. And with his ‘friend’ David Cameron, the current tenant of number 10, making such a mess of things, he must fancy his chances of getting the Conservative Party leadership after Cameron loses the next election and gets sacked. Then he’d spend a parliament getting ready to mount his own challenge for 2020.

Not all his ‘friends’ are entirely happy about this shady politician realising his ambition, any more than the ‘friends’ of his predecessor were two millennia ago. These days, though, we don’t generally settle these things with knives. So one of Johnson’s ‘friends’ has found a much smarter and sneakier way of doing things.

Boris Johnson
The target?
Michael Gove’s established himself as a special kind of education secretary. For instance, he tells us that he is “a decentraliser. I believe in trusting professionals.” Despite that, he has managed to infuriate pretty much the entire teaching profession, not least by his outspoken defence of the use of unqualified teachers. 

It was also he who sent a bible to every school in the country, which I presume was intended to be some kind of inspirational move. Personally, I have difficulty believing that students are pouring into their libraries for the opportunity to consult their Gove bible lovingly and with rapt attention. 

What has Gove done now?

Something truly surprising. He’s turned his fire on the number of old Etonians in the cabinet – the cabinet in which he serves. That includes his boss, David Cameron. Gove, in an interview with the Financial Times, draws a parallel between the present cabinet and that headed by Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury over a century ago.

“At the beginning of the 20th century, the Conservative cabinet was called Hotel Cecil,” declared Gove, “the phrase ‘Bob’s your uncle’ came about and all the rest of it. It is preposterous.”

It doesn’t bother him individually: “It doesn't make me feel personally uncomfortable because I like each of the individuals concerned, but it's ridiculous.”

And he wonders “I don't know where you can find some such similar situation in a developed economy.”

Extraordinary. Here’s Gove decrying his own government. A Conservative-led government. And for being elitist, of all things.

It seems inexplicable until you remember that David Cameron’s not the only Etonian around. Another is the present occupant of City Hall in London. Oh, yes. Boris Johnson’s another graduate of Eton College.

And that gives us the subtext to Gove’s interview, and with Tories, it’s always the subtext that counts. He’s saying we’ve got an Etonian Prime Minister, and that seems ridiculous in this day and age. On the other hand, he’s already there. Leave him in place. But we certainly don’t want another. 

Michael Gove
The dagger?
Boris has been warned. He needs to watch his back, where his so-called friends are standing. And sharpening their knives.

Then again. 2058 years ago today, Caesar was warned too. Perhaps we can still avoid a Johnson premiership.

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