Michael Gove- The Privileged In Public Service

Michael Gove recently gave the Ditchley Annual Lecture. He opened with a quote from the Marxist intellectual Gramsci and spoke of “The Privilege of Public Service.” Gramsci is famous for his writings on Cultural Hegemony and his belief that the establishment class uses the dominance of cultural institutions in a society to protect and perpetuate their power and control of that society.

Gove quotes him thus: “The crisis consists precisely of the fact that the inherited is dying – and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”.  

He goes on to discuss what he sees as a stagnation of Government and its ability to make and implement decisions for the benefit of the population. He talks about the Westminster “looking-glass world” saturated with the influence of “the think-tanks and lobbyists who…are socially rooted in assumptions which are inescapably metropolitan.”

He continues (and remember these are his words not those of a radical leftist intellectual!):

It is part of my job in the Cabinet Office to help drive change. To help demonstrate the good that Government can do, to reaffirm the nobility of service to the public, and to strive every day to use the money, and the powers, that people have vested in us to improve their lives.

Public service is a privilege. Not because it brings wealth or ease. Many of those who work alongside me in the civil service could command higher salaries, and indeed face less stress, in other fields.

This all sounds good doesn’t it? But do Gove and his associates really believe what they are saying? Does he truly care about the “Forgotten man” or the fact that:

Globalisation, as practised, seemed to be eroding social solidarity and deepening a gulf between elites and those whom they governed or employed. And that gulf was not simply one of wealth. It was also one of sympathy.

In the remainder of this article we shall analyse Gove’s personal history and the extensive matrix of establishment connections that surround him. We hope to illustrate the irony of Gove’s appropriation of Gramsci by showing you how he as an individual and those connected to him, embody the cultural hegemony Gramsci warns us about. We will also illustrate how his understanding of the “Privilege of Public Service” mirrors that of the wider establishment. It is actually an understanding entirely predicated on wealth and ease and protecting the privilege they enjoy.


On the 10/07/20 The Guardian and OpenDemocracy published a joint-investigation into the awarding of an £840,000 Government contract to a company called Public First. The contract was awarded without a preliminary tendering phase and its remit was to conduct research around public perceptions of the current Government and its policies.

As Conn and Geoghegan point out in the article, Public First was founded by James Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf, two individuals with past links to both Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. The contract was awarded by The Cabinet Office, the department currently overseen by Michael Gove. The Cabinet Office stated that the bypass of a tendering stage was necessary and justified under emergency Coronavirus regulations. (The Henry Jackson Society, a right-of centre lobby group and think-tank with links to Gove also received Government funding recently, as we investigate below!)

We will leave it up to you to decide if it was the establishment links of Public First that aided the winning of the contract, or if, as the Cabinet Office stated: “This is nonsense. Public First were contracted to undertake this work because of their wealth of experience in this area.”


Public First is a policy and research think-tank founded and directed by James Frayne and his wife Rachel Wolf. PF’s office is based at 11 Tufton Street.

James Frayne formerly worked for Westbourne Communications which was founded by Lord James Bethell. He has contributed articles to The Spectator and The Telegraph. Other notable think-tanks and campaigns he has been associated with and worked for, (that you will recognise from our previous articles) are Reform, Policy Exchange, North East Says No, The Taxpayer’s Alliance and Business For Sterling. These last two are both heavily associated with Vote Leave head honcho Matthew Elliott. Dominic Cummings worked on the Business for Sterling and North East Says No campaigns.

One of Michael Gove’s current SPAD’s is Josh Grimstone. He is a former Vote Leave consultant, former Conservative Party head of broadcasting and former head of media at Westbourne Communications.

Frayne is also a former SPAD and was a Director of Communications at the Department for Education between 2011 and 2012. Michael Gove was Education Secretary from 2010 to 2014. The Independent published an article referring to “how Michael Gove’s vicious attack dogs are terrorising the DfE”. The article mentions a private settlement being reached to prevent a formal (and public) hearing of bullying allegations. The Independent specifically identifies two individuals as these “vicious attack dogs” at the centre of the allegations. They are Dominic Cummings and James Frayne. Both men denied the allegations at the time.

Rachel Wolf is the co-founder of Public First and married to James Frayne. Educated at Cambridge. She is also a former adviser to Gove and David Cameron and co-authored the 2019 Conservative Party election manifesto. She has previously worked for Rupert Murdoch’s failed education technology firm Amplify.

Wolf founded and ran the New Schools network from 2009 whilst she was a SPAD for then Shadow Secretary for State at the DfE, Michael Gove. The NSN is linked to US school reformer Joel Klein who in turn went on to work for Murdoch. The DfE from 2011 onwards, under the stewardship of Gove, provided support and funding to the NSN. A former director of the New Schools Network was Toby Young. Wolf is also a former adviser to Mayor Boris Johnson and is the daughter of Martin H. Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times.

Frayne and Wolf established a lobby group called Parents and Teachers for Excellence. PTE directors include Jon Moynihan, a former chairman of the Vote Leave Finance Committee who donated £100,000 to Boris Johnson during the 2019 election.

Another senior partner at Public First mentioned in The Guardian article as being embedded within Downing Street as a temporary Covid SPAD is Gabriel Milland. He has had various Government Communication roles including as Head of News then Head of Communications for the DfE from 2011-2015. Also previously worked for Policy Exchange and as journalist for The Express.

Some other Public First notable links to Gove and his known associates include:

Tom Banks – Has been a campaign manager for the Taxpayer’s Alliance and a regional director for Vote Leave. He has also worked as a campaign manager for the Conservative Party. He is a Director at Public First.

Jonathan Simons – PF Director formerly of Varkey Foundation, and education foundation. Also former employee of the current Government’s favourite dodgy contractor Serco and Policy Exchange as well as Education SPAD to Gordon Brown.

John Cope – Governor of Activate Learning and a Board member of Pearson. Both are organisations that own and run educational institutions for profit and have a business interest in education policy. Cope also a former employee of the think-tank Education Policy Institute.

Tom Waterhouse – Was deputy to Nick Varley on the Vote Leave ‘Ground Team”. He is also a former SPAD and worked on both Boris Johnson’s mayoral campaigns. Former Tory councillor.

Natascha Engel- Former Labour MP. Appointed by the Conservatives as a commissioner for Shale Gas despite, or perhaps because, she had become a fracking lobbyist for Ineos after leaving office.

Frederick Ellery – Was a researcher at Policy Exchange and worked for the Conservative Party.

Edward Bottomley – Interned as a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute.

Luke Tryl- Worked for the New Schools Network.

Jonathan Dupont – Alumni of Policy Exchange think-tank

Fred De Fossard- Now Special Advisor to Jacob Rees-Mogg. (See our matrix profile of him for more details!)

****UPDATE 30/08/2020*****

Since original publication of this article the Guardian and Mirror have reported Public First have received three lucrative Government contracts that have all bypassed the tendering process. This most recent contract is with the exam agency Ofqual during the ongoing algorithm-induced A-Level results meltdown.

****UPDATE 16/01/2021****

As of this date Public First now have registered a total of five Government contracts, totalling £1,141,250!

A further £46,000 contract for “Communications Support and Recovery Plan” was published on the 07/09/2020. A £90,000 contract for the Kafkaesque “Provision of Narrative Testing” was published on 11/12/2020.

What is interesting to note is that the most recent contract, details of which were published nine months after the contract ended, also contains a redacted copy of the Purchase Order from the cabinet office. The details of who authorised the contract are all obscured, however one tantalising piece of information remains, the delivery address is the Third Floor of the Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall. The room number is redacted and we have been unable to find a directory of which department is located on the third floor. What we do know is that the incumbent Minister for the Cabinet Office based at 70 Whitehall since February 2020 is Michael Gove.

****UPDATE 15/02/2021****

It is reported in The Guardian that court documents were presented by lawyers representing the Good law Project which “reveal the central role the prime minister’s former chief adviser played in the awarding of the contract to Public First, a research company owned and run by two of his longstanding associates.”

The government defence lawyers argued that in an process in which the usual tendering rules were not applied, “Gove’s and Cummings’ relationships with the Public First partners meant they knew the quality of their work, and denied it showed “bias” in appointing the company.”

What is the now familiar civil service refrain? Imagine having to work with these truth-twisters!


Influence Mapping of Michael Gove.

Michael Gove was educated at the Independent Robert Gordons school and then Oxford University.

During first year of Oxford he befriended Boris Johnson and assisted in him becoming president of the Oxford Union and succeeded him in the role the following year.  

Gove is a former journalist for The Times (Murdoch), has contributed to The Spectator and has been an advisory board member of Standpoint Magazine. Standpoint Magazine is a right of centre publication published by the Social Affairs Unit. The Social Affairs Unit has its origins in the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Gove’s journalism career highlights the convergence of establishment interests and how journalism is inseparable from business and politics and the influence of the wealthy and powerful. Ian Hislop of Private Eye suggested that Gove’s close relationship with Murdoch should be investigated (Gove and wife Sarah attended Murdoch’s wedding to Jerry Hall in 2016, as did Priti Patel). Murdoch was also present at Donald Trump’s first UK press interview after becoming president. The interview was conducted by Michael Gove.

Gove was the official co-convener of the Vote Leave Campaign Committee with Gisela Stuart. Stuart is affiliated to both the Legatum Institute and The Henry Jackson Society. The Campaign Director for Vote Leave was Dominic Cummings.

Gove is a former Chairman of the think-tank Policy Exchange with Nick Boles. Policy Exchange was founded by Ditchley Governor Francis Maude. Nick Boles is also a member of the Henry Jackson Society and is a former flatmate of Gove.  They were both part of The Notting Hill set along with David Cameron and George Osborne. Another think-tank Gove is linked to is Thatcher’s Tufton Street perennials the Centre for Policy Studies who published Gove’s pamphlet on N. Ireland. Gove is also a signatory to the statement of principles of The Henry Jackson Society.

Gove is a governor of the above-mentioned Ditchley Foundation. The Ditchley Foundation is a private organisation, founded to discuss and facilitate international and Anglo-American relations. Current notable governors of the Ditchley Foundation, and those that we have mentioned in the matrix project before, include:

Lord Charles Aldington

Lord Chadlington Peter Gummer

Lord Hill of Oaresford – Major shareholder in Huntsworth, the firm founded by Lord Chadlington.

Jo Johnson – Former Conservative MP and brother of Boris Johnson

Andrew Knight – Chairman Times Newspaper Holdings

Lord Peter Mandelson

Lord Francis Maude

Roland Rudd – Brother of Amber Rudd and founder/chairman of Finsbury PR firm.

In 2006 Weidenfeld & Nicolson published Gove’s book Celsius 7/7 that outlines his view of the origins of Islamic terrorism and the West’s response to it. In the acknowledgements section there are a few familiar names!

Baron George Weidenfeld was an entire matrix of establishment connections all of his own, an influential publisher, political networker and founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative. Lord Daniel Finkelstein is a Times journalist and editor as well as columnist at The Jewish Chronicle. He is a former Policy Exchange chairman and founded Tufton Street think-tank Social Market Foundation.

Doulas Murray we have mentioned before but, as a reminder is now associate director of the Henry Jackson Institute. Oliver Kamm is another Times and Jewish Chronicle journalist and has a book published by the Social Affairs Unit. Formerly affiliated to the Henry Jackson Society.

Stephen Pollard is the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, signatory of Henry Jackson Society Principles and is linked to the think-tank Civitas, based at 55 Tufton Street which also housed Business for Britain and the Vote Leave campaign. A Civitas off-shoot was the Centre For Social Cohesion,  director of which was Douglas Murray and which was amalgamated into the Henry Jackson Society.

Gove also thanks Nick Boles, Dominic Cummings and James Frayne.

In a 2009 article about the influence of the lobby group Conservative Friends of Israel, of which Gove is a member, Peter Oborne noted that a copy of Gove’s book came free with every membership.

Gove is married to Daily Mail columnist and self-identifying persecuted “Karen” Sarah Vine. She is Godmother to David Cameron’s daughter. Gove was criticised during the expenses scandal for claiming expenses on furniture bought at OKA, the furniture retailer owned by Viscountess Astor, David Cameron’s mother in law.

Gove has been a regular attendee of The Leader’s Group events and prizes in previous years have included dinner with Michael and Sarah for £120,000.


A special mention needs to go to Portland PR/ Communications for their numerous past and present links to Michael Gove and Public First. These are all former and/or current employees associated with the company:

Lord James O’Shaughnessy – Worked with Gove at Policy Exchange and runs an education charity called Floreat Education Academies Trust. David Cameron’s former Director of Policy.

George Eustice – Is a Conservative MP with links to Business for Sterling (Cummings former campaign).

Henry Cook – Former SPAD to Michael Gove and Vote Leave associate.

James Starkie – Former SPAD to Michael Gove and Vote Leave associate. Also former SPAD to Priti Patel.

Henry De Zoete – Former SPAD to Michael Gove. Researcher at the Reform think-tank.

Mark Wallace – Has been editor of the ConservativeHome website and a campaign director for the Taxpayer’s Alliance.

James Frayne left his role at Portland to become Gove’s Director of Communications in 2012.

Portland have been recipients of lucrative government and public body contracts in the past, including:

Stakeholder Engagement and Communications contract with the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway Project. £3,572,096 contract in 2019.

Strategic Communications contract with the Children Commissioner’s Office (DfE) in 2017. £25,500 contract.

Portland have also been linked to Blairite members of the Labour party and allegedly involved in the choreographing of the bitter internal struggle to overthrow Jeremy Corbyn as leader.


Register of interests needed for those that give donations not just those that receive them?

Now that we have looked at some of the groups and individuals that Gove is connected to, let us turn our attentions to those that directly fund him through donations to his local and national constituency campaigns.

Andrew Roberts – Cambridge educated. Wife Susan Gilchrist is CEO of Brunswick group LLP founded by Alan Parker, an establishment matrix all of his own. Roberts has worked with Centre for Policy Studies and the Centre for Social Cohesion, which was part of Civitas and subsumed by HJS. Churchill biographer. Published columns in The Telegraph and The Spectator. Trustee of the Margaret Thatcher Archive Trust. Past winner of the Wolfson Literary prize. Like Weidenfeld, Roberts is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, a think-tank whose mission statement is to protect and promote Israeli policy and doctrine.

Lord Wolfson of Apsley Guise – Cambridge educated. Long-term donor to the Conservative Party and Vote Leave campaign. Was chair of the Open Europe think-tank which has now been amalgamated into Policy Exchange. Open Europe was launched by Rodney Leach who backed Business for Sterling. Supporters of Business for Sterling include millionaire hotel magnate Rocco Forte. Open Europe is based on Tufton street. Other names affiliated with Open Europe include Peter Gummer, Lord Peckham and scourge of the hospitality industry Tim Martin of Wetherspoons. Former employees include Paul Stephenson from last month’s article.

Sir Paul Marshall – Donated to Gove’s leadership bid. Also a Brexit supporter and donated to the Vote Leave campaign.  Chairman and sponsor of the think-tank Education Policy Institute and is the chairman of ARK Schools, a multi- academy trust. Theodore Agnew has served on the board of EPI.  Marshall’s sister is ITV journalist Penny Marshall. Paul funded the establishment of UnHerd, contributors of which include Douglas Murray. Marshall has also funded a study by think-tank Legatum, of which Matthew Elliott a previous fellow. He was Lead Non-Executive Director at the Department for Education 2013-2016.

Jerry Buhlmann – Former CEO Dentsu Aegis Network-media and digital marketing and now of Croud ltd.

Baron Harris of Peckham – Sponsors the Harris Federation a multi-academy trust. Conservative Life Peer and donor.

Geoffrey De Jager – Also specific interests in education he is affiliated with the Sparrow Schools Foundation and the Rhodes University UK Trust. Chairman of Classics for All charity.

Zak Gertler – Leading property developer in London. Close friend of Benjamin Netanyahu. Affiliated to the Conservative Friends of Israel.

IPGL ltd – board member Michael Spencer- Oxford educated. Former Conservative Party treasurer and long-time donor. Billionaire. Leaders group member.

Lord Charles Wigoder – Long term conservative donor and member of the Leaders Group. Son of Basil Wigoder. Former head of corporate finance at Carlton Communications.

Mohammed Amersi –  Honorary Fellow Oxford. Conservative Donor. British Academy’s Future of the Corporation Project member. Advisory board member Education Outcomes Fund. Has contributed to the Financial Times.

Gove has also received donations from the Magna Carta Club and Strangers Gallery dining clubs which have been investigated here.

The Franco-British Colloque have also funded trips for Gove to attend their events. This is an obscure and secretive group with rumoured influence on New Labour and concerned with the Anglo-French relationship with America. Affiliated names include Nick Butler a Cambridge educated, Financial Times blogger and former SPAD to Gordon Brown. Richard Lambert is a trustee. He has been linked to the Centre for European Reform. This think-tank was formerly a member of the Stockholm network and formerly based at Tufton Street. Lambert is a former editor the Financial Times. Oxford educated.


Olga Polizzi – Hotelier and former Westminster City Councillor for the Conservatives. Brother is Sir Rocco Forte.

David Meller – Founded Meller Educational trust. Former DfE board member 2013-2018. Former Trustee of Policy Exchange. Finance chair of Gove’s leadership campaign. Former Joint chairman of the Presidents Club charitable trust. Conservative Friends of Israel supporter.

Baron Theodore Agnew – Conservative life peer. Founded inspiration trust, a multi academy trust of academies and free schools. Investor in AI firm Faculty which have been linked to Vote Leave. Former trustee of Policy Exchange and board member and trustee of Education Policy Institute. Non-executive board member DfE 2013-2015 and parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Education for school system 2017-2020.

Baron John Nash – Oxford educated. Former Conservative Under-Secretary of State for Schools 2013-2017 and founded charity Future that sponsors academies. Life Peer. Board member CPS. Chairman of Governors of Pimlico Academy.


You may have noticed the Henry Jackson Society has appeared numerous times throughout this piece. We defer here to the excellent article by the Daily Maverick which looks into the £83,000 funding the group received from the UK Home Office between 2015-2017 and their wider establishment links. Definitely check it out for context!

For further context on the HJS impact on contemporary UK politics, another affiliated Conservative MP is Bob Seely who published a HJS report in 2019 proposing the dissolution of the Department of International Development which should start the alarm bells ringing! The forward for this proposal was written by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Other Signatories linked to Gove and the HJS Statement of Principles include:

Marquess of Lothian Michael Ancram – Oxford educated. Bullingdon Club member. Former MP and Chairman of the Conservative party. Founded Global Strategy Forum think-tank. Advisors at GSF include Gisela Stuart, Johan Eliasch, Philip Hammond, Frank Field, Adrian De Ferranti and Malcolm Rifkind.

Lord Paul Bew whose son, John Bew, is currently part of Boris Johnson’s No. 10 Policy Unit.

Damian Collins – Conservative MP. Oxford educated. Former employee of Saatchi and the Conservative Research Department. Formerly worked for the Bow Group think-tank. Also associated with the Bow group is Conservative MP and husband of Dido Harding, John Penrose.

Stephen Crabb – Conservative MP and member of Conservative Friends of Israel.

Robert Halfon – Conservative MP and former political director for the Conservative Friends of Israel.

Stephen Hammond – Former Conservative MP.

Greg Hands – Conservative MP.

Professor Andrew Lever – Professor of Infectious Diseases at Cambridge.

Stephen Pollard – As mentioned above.

Andrew Roberts – As mentioned above.

Gisela Stuart – As mentioned above.

Ed Vaizey – Oxford educated. Former Conservative MP. Notting Hill Set. Also reported in the Telegraph for expenses related to purchases made in Viscountess Astor’s shop.

Lord David Willetts – Oxford. Former Conservative MP. Former Centre For Policy Studies employee. Chairman of the Resolution Foundation think-tank.

Full list here.

Other Conservatives linked to HJS include Amber Rudd, Dominic Raab, Priti Patel, Nadine Dorries and Nick Boles

The afore-mentioned Social Affairs Unit published the Manifesto of The Henry Jackson Society.

The current executive director of the HJS is Alan Mendoza. Educated at Cambridge he is a former Conservative councillor and included the Conservative Friends of Israel on his register of interests. Also associated with the Bright Blue think-tank and a co-founder the Disraelian Union. Bright Blue founder Ryan Shorthouse formerly worked for Bow Group.

The Henry Jackson Society and Robert Halfon MP hosted a panel event in the House of Commons in 2010. This event was for The Friends of Israel Initiative and included Andrew Roberts as one of the speakers.


“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born; now is the time of monsters.” Gramsci.

In his Ditchley Lecture Michael Gove aligns himself with societal forces seemingly opposed to the cultural hegemony Gramsci warned us about from his prison cell. Gove talks about money being “rightly directed, properly authorised and its spending effectively evaluated then massive progress can be made.” He talks about representing the interests of the “Forgotten Man” and mitigating the influence of the lobbyists of the Westminster “looking-glass world”. He talks about old stagnant elites and the need for a radical approach to politics and power. Fine words.

The sheer weight of evidence that counters these words in this article highlights how truly disingenuous Gove, as an individual, and the Conservative Party are more generally. They regard their position as an opportunity to expand and protect their own privilege, and that of their associates, at the expense of the public interest. They are the embodiment of an elite establishment that dominates British cultural institutions and is suffocating our democracy.

This article highlights the deception now openly practised by the Conservative ideologues. Gove speaks of improving and empowering the lives of we, the ordinary citizens. He speaks at an invitation only event to a room of similarly rich, influential establishment members. He speaks as a powerful representative of a Party historically, financially, ideologically aligned with, and peopled by, the wealthy elite of this country. He speaks, as an affiliate of numerous think-tanks and lobbyists now funded by the Government, of spending our money responsibly and of limiting the influence of the think-tanks and lobbyists.

As George Orwell wrote:

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.

We must all look past what those in power say, and how it is reported, and focus on their actions. Follow the ink of the cuttlefish, not that of the journalist or speechwriter’s pen.

 Follow Sean Rankin on Twitter: @ClydesiderRed

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8 thoughts on “Michael Gove- The Privileged In Public Service

  1. Deeply troubling examination of one of our most devious political figures. “The Establishment – and how they get away with it” indeed.


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