27/02/2012

Education Secretary Renews Public Relationship With Murdoch

The long standing relationship between Conservative MP Michael Gove and Rupert Murdoch has been publicly re-established this weekend when the education secretary and former Times journalist, attacked the Leveson inquiry, calling it a threat to press freedom, and praised Murdoch, “Whenever anyone sets up a new newspaper – as Rupert Murdoch has with the Sun on Sunday – they should be applauded and not criticised."

It is a reminder of Murdoch’s attempts to move into UK education. In November 2010 Gove toured the site of a proposed academy to be built by Murdoch. Rebekah Brooks, then News International chief executive, and other top Murdoch staff accompanied the cabinet minister.

Plans for the academy were quietly dropped when the hacking scandal broke in the press shortly after the visit.

The recent praise from Gove could signal a renewed interest in education for Murdoch, who has described himself in a speech as the saviour of British education.

The education secretary is known to meet Murdoch frequently and has publicly backed the ideas of Joel Klein, the head of Murdoch’s new education division.

According to officially released details Gove had dinner with Murdoch one week after being promoted to education secretary. It is also known that when Gove first became a backbench MP in 2005, the Times supplemented his income with a £60,000-a-year column. His wife continues to work at the paper.

He also received an advance from Murdoch’s publishing arm, HarperCollins, in 2004 for a book on 18th-century politician, Viscount Bolingbroke. The book has not been delivered.

HarperCollins refuses to disclose the size of the advance and its size is not specified in Gove's register of financial interests. Asked if his advance should be returned eight years later, HarperCollins said Gove "is still committed to writing a book on Bolingbroke but obviously his ministerial duties come first for now". Gove will not comment.

Gove, Murdoch and Klein meet numerous times during 2010 and all coincided with significant announcements on education, all activity however was put on hold as the hacking allegations grew.

Joel Klein now has a key role in the controversial management and standards committee (MSC), tasked with ‘cleaning-house’ at News International by handing over journalists' incriminating emails to the police.

A former US lawyer Klein had previously run the New York school system until hired by Murdoch for £2m a year, plus a £1m signing bonus, to launch a "revolutionary, and profitable, education division".

New moves on the UK’s education system will be unlikely until Murdoch’s UK operations are publicly ‘cleansed’ of the hacking toxicity but the process of “draining the swamp’, as one MSC source put it, may now be in sight.

(H)


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