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