Michael Gove calls New York Times ‘useful idiots’ for Trojan horse podcast

Michael Gove has attacked the New York Times as “useful idiots” for its podcast about the Trojan horse controversy involving Birmingham schools, and accused it of portraying the UK “as an insular backwater whose inhabitants are drowning in a tide of nostalgia, racism and bad food”.

Gove’s claims come in the foreword of a new “documentary record” about the Trojan horse affair published by the Policy Exchange thinktank, whose authors question whether the government has adequately followed up concerns over extremism in schools.

While much of the report is historical details about the events from 2013-14 – after an anonymous letter claimed Islamic activists were taking over state schools in Birmingham – it is also highly critical of a recent New York Times-sponsored podcast, The Trojan Horse Affair, that was sceptical of both the letter and the government’s handling of the controversy.

Gove, who was England’s education secretary when the controversy first arose, wrote in the report’s foreword that the podcast series “was replete with errors and omissions” and a “travesty” that favoured activists seeking to undermine the government’s narratives about the affair.

Gove and his co-author, the former Home Office special adviser Nick Timothy, also accuse the New York Times of bias against the UK as a whole, claiming that the newspaper “has taken a peculiar stance towards Britain in recent years, repeatedly portraying this country as an insular backwater whose inhabitants are drowning in a tide of nostalgia, racism and bad food”.

The podcast was critical of Gove’s involvement, and revealed that he had been repeatedly warned that the original letter was “bogus” by authorities in Birmingham.

The bulk of the Policy Exchange report is a timeline of events leading up to the disclosure of the anonymous letter, and the subsequent flurry of reports and investigations conducted by public bodies including Birmingham city council, the Department for Education (DfE) and Ofsted. It considered media coverage of the original affair and of the New York Times podcast when it was launched in February this year.

While little or no evidence of an organised plot by Islamic extremists was ever discovered, and the Trojan horse letter is widely considered to be a hoax, the investigations resulted in several schools in Birmingham having forced changes in management, and new national requirements for schools to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.

But the Policy Exchange report’s authors questioned whether the government has adopted the recommendations made by its own investigation into the affair. “It is unclear how many of these recommendations have been fully implemented, and what the results have been from their implementation,” they concluded.

A government spokesperson said:“Schools are required to make sure all staff are trained to spot the signs of radicalisation under the Prevent duty and we have a dedicated helpline for schools to raise concerns about radicalisation.

“We regularly update our guidance and publish new training materials to help schools identify and address extremist views.”

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Gove and Timothy also link the criticisms of the Trojan horse affair with attacks on the government’s counter-extremism programme, Prevent, which is the subject of an independent review being carried out by William Shawcross.

“There is a well-organised campaign that seeks to undermine our counter-extremism work and the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent. This is important to note in anticipation of the independent review of Prevent,” wrote Gove and Timothy.

“Many of the key players in this campaign – who will no doubt repeat their demands for the scrapping of Prevent regardless of how it is fine-tuned – are also involved in undermining the truth about Trojan horse. The common thread to their campaigning is the allegation of state-driven ‘Islamophobia’.”

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