Michael Gove quotes Larkin's lament for England in speech on environment

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Jeremy Corbyn isn’t the only leading politician with a penchant for poetry. The environment secretary, Michael Gove, has quoted Philip Larkin at length in a recent speech, while at the same time confessing his love for Wordsworth, Thomas Hardy, and Edward Thomas.

Gove cited Larkin when making his first major speech on the environment since taking up his current post. Speaking at the WWF Living Planet Centre in Woking, he said: “In 1970, the incoming Conservative government of Edward Heath created this country’s first Department of the Environment.

“The new department published a white paper on our natural heritage in 1972 which was entitled ‘How Do you Want to Live?’ The department, with perhaps more idealism, or less due diligence, than has subsequently been the case in Government communications strategy, commissioned Philip Larkin to write a poetic prologue. And his poem - subsequently titled ‘Going, Going’ - is a lament for the erosion and destruction of our natural environment under the pressures of corporate greed, devil take the hindmost individualism, and modernist brutalism.”

Larkin’s poem refers to those with “spectacled grins” and foresees England as the “first slum of Europe: a role / It won’t be so hard to win, / With a cast of crooks and tarts.”

Elsewhere in his speech Gove said that “growing up between the North Sea and the Cairngorms, spending weekends in the hills and weekdays with my head in Wordsworth and Hardy, Lewis Grassic Gibbon and Edward Thomas, I grew up with an emotional attachment to natural beauty which inevitably influences my feelings towards questions on everything from architecture to ivory.”

When he was education secretary Michael Gove helped launch a national poetry recitation competition for teenage pupils. He has also been a magnet for poetry aimed at himself. When he was at the Department of Education, Jess Green’s ‘Dear Mr Gove’ became a runaway internet hit . Last year Steve Pottinger’s  ‘Stabberjocky’, focusing on Tory leadership backstabbing, began: “Twas Brexit, and the slithy Gove …”  


◄ Born, living, or working in Sussex? You can enter the £1,000 Brighton & Hove poetry competition

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Tommy Carroll

Sat 5th Aug 2017 00:47

As father Jack would say "feckin frackin"

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M.C. Newberry

Fri 4th Aug 2017 12:58

JH - my own "Pocket Oxford Dictionary" defines twerp as a
stupid or objectionable person. Hence, my view that R-M
falls outside that description. Your list has items that are
not necessarily the "Road to Damascus" and they still
conjure up controversy: not, IMHO, a cause for
categorising a person's character in derogatory terms.
No problem. Let us agree to differ on that point.
I will, of course, happily continue to look forward to
your poetical posts no matter what the point of view
that brings them to life. Not doing so would be make
ME a twerp! 😃

<Deleted User> (10985)

Thu 3rd Aug 2017 16:37

OK MC, if we look at the Oxford English dictionary definition of 'twerp' we have a late 19th century noun which means "a silly, weak-minded, or annoying person". Rees-Mogg may not be thick, but in my opinion, he meets the annoying criterion in a late 19th century sense (which, incidentally, is where he belongs). Gove, on the other hand, could be described with a far greater set of adjectives, some of which I would never use in polite company and so shall resist the urge to repeat here.

P.S. This difference of opinion between you and I, will, I hope, not affect our poetic friendship ... : )

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M.C. Newberry

Thu 3rd Aug 2017 15:31

Colin - you're quite right, including your closing comment
that R-M still holds the parliamentary record (recent BBC
TV news text item).
JH - you may have your views au contraire with those of R-M that you list, but these too are worthy of challenge
on various grounds. R-M may be "old school" but progress
isn't necessarily best. Agree or disagree with his own
views, they are always considered, lucid and literate -
qualities increasingly absent in public date and in today's
computer-created chat forums. Stupid, he is not.

<Deleted User> (10985)

Wed 2nd Aug 2017 19:44

• repeal of same sex marriage
• repeal of the Human Rights Act
• pro zero hours contracts
• climate change denier
• pro Brexit
• pro bedroom tax
• pro Trump
• pro death penalty
• compulsory teaching of Latin in schools

<Deleted User> (13762)

Wed 2nd Aug 2017 19:08

MC - I'm afraid Rees-Mogg's longest word record (floccinaucinihilipilification) was just recently beaten by a 16yr old during a Youth Select Committee inquiry. His word: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis. As this is currently the longest word in the OED it looks likely he will never be beaten! However, the YSC is not a parliamentary procedure so not officially recorded in Hansard. Turns out Rees-Mog's record may yet be safe. Another twinkle in his eye maybe.

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M.C. Newberry

Wed 2nd Aug 2017 17:29

While enjoying JH's comments in poetic form here - and
whilst I can accept the duplicity politics can sometimes
see in its ranks (no names, no packdrill), I for one would
hesitate to rank Jacob Rees-Mogg as a "gormless twerp".
His manner is invariably careful and considered. and his
views clear and comprehensive. I was unaware until
very recently that Hansard acknowledges him as the
holder of the record for the longest word used in
parliamentary debate(s) - but that doesn't surprise
me. He would certainly have had a twinkle in his eye
when uttering it!

<Deleted User> (10985)

Wed 2nd Aug 2017 16:27

In contemplation of the world,
With all the change and all the doubt,
I reminisced on times gone by
And went on mental walkabout.

I pondered on the 'common twerp',
Who seem these days so awfully rare;
One used to see them all the time,
In search of misplaced savoir faire.

In past times with their witless ilk,
The 'nitwit', 'barmcake' and the 'fool',
You'd see these chaps make endless gaffes,
And be the butt of ridicule.

But wait a mo', who are those boobs
Appearing on my old TV?
It’s Micky Gove and Jack Rees-Mogg;
A brace of gormless 'twerps' I see.

Thank goodness that we have 'The House';
A place of refuge for that group,
Where 'twerps' and 'fatheads' congregate,
With other types of 'nincompoop'.

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John F Keane

Wed 2nd Aug 2017 14:49

Going, Going is actually a mildly eugenic poem, lamenting the loss of Old England to rapacious 'cut price crowds'.

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M.C. Newberry

Tue 1st Aug 2017 17:16

It must always be welcome when a government minister
feels able to relate to and recite poetry in the course of
popularising and explaining policy decisions...especially
when they affect our diminishing and irreplaceable
countryside and what that means to future generations.

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