Media Watch: Michael Gove’s class war would have the press seeing red, if he were Labour

The Tory chief whip uses the language of the left, and the press love it


“Ed Miliband proposed new taxes on the ‘undeserving rich’ last night, saying Labour will only win the general election if voters believe the party are ‘warriors for the dispossessed’.”

If I was to ask you which newspaper ran a story that began with this line, you would probably guess it was the Labour-supporting Mirror or the liberal Guardian. Or perhaps it was written in the Tory press as a way to scare the more well-off about Red Ed’s socialist intentions?

Actually this is the first line of a story in today’s Daily Mail, only with the name of Tory chief whip Michael Gove and his party swapped with that of Miliband and Labour. The story (‘We’ll make sure the ‘undeserving rich’ pay more in tax, says Gove’) reports a speech by the former education secretary at the launch of campaign group The Good Right. Here’s the original:

“Michael Gove proposed new taxes on the ‘undeserving rich’ last night, saying the Tories will only win the general election if voters believe the party are ‘warriors for the dispossessed’.”

The Mail continues:

Painting a broad, positive vision for five more years in power, the party’s chief whip said the wealthiest already pay the most towards reducing the deficit, but insisted: ‘We expect them to pay more.’

Who knew the Mail was so keen on taxing the rich? Usually any moves to take money from the wealthy are met with cries of ‘socialism’ and ‘class war’, including from Michael Gove himself. This is the newspaper that claimed Miliband’s late father, a Marxist intellectual, ‘hated Britain’ and then mused on whether young Ed was planning to turn the country socialist. Imagine if Ed Miliband had spoken of the ‘undeserving rich’ and called Labour ‘warriors of the dispossessed’!

Of course, the policies ‘Red Gove’ is advocating are very different to what Labour would do in government. In the same story, the Mail notes chancellor George Osborne has pledged to raise the 40p tax bracket to £50,000, cutting taxes for people on middle-class incomes, and so decreasing tax revenue for the treasury. (Labour has pledged to raise the top rate of income tax to 50p if elected, which is more the sort of ‘socialism’ the Mail is worried about.)

Gove’s comments are merely his latest attempt to use the language of the left to push right-wing policies. Here’s a taste:

“Only if we remind people of our commitment to social justice, demonstrate our belief in equality of opportunity and affirm that we are warriors for the dispossessed, will we be able to win arguments and elections, and then be in a position genuinely to help the vulnerable and the voiceless.”

Despite the triangulation (stealing your political opponent’s clothes), speeches like this betray their regressive nature, by painting inequality as a problem only of opportunity, rather than outcome, and going on to describe as ‘compassionate’ the destructive welfare ‘reform’ policies of Ian Duncan Smith.

Whether use of the sort of rhetoric called for by Gove will be enough to help the Tories ‘win arguments and elections’ is debatable. But the speech’s coverage in the Mail and in the Times’s cover story and leader column suggests it is certainly popular in the Tory press.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.