The “Leave” vote in the Brexit referendum threw British politics into chaos. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, and Brexit leader Boris Johnson seemed a likely replacement for him. In a stunning turn of events on Thursday, former Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove attacked Johnson and announced his own candidacy, leading Johnson to withdraw from the race.
Perhaps even more suprising is Gove’s defense of the American pilgrims, encouraging British children to emulate the early immigrants to America who fled England for religious freedom. Gove played a key leadership role in Brexit, and in his statement arguing for it he openly compared Britain’s decision to leave the European Union to America’s Declaration of Independence.
We can show leadership. Like the Americans who declared their independence and never looked back, we can become an exemplar of what an inclusive, open and innovative democracy can achieve.
But Gove’s praise of the United States was not limited to comparisons to Brexit. In a profile on the new candidate for prime minister, The Telegraph‘s Toby Young told a story of Gove praising the American pilgrims and encouraging British children to emulate them. He spoke at Young’s “free school,” the British version of a charter school, which receives state funding but is independent of local authority.
Here is Young’s story of the encounter (emphasis added):
“Anything you’d like me to talk about?” he asked when he arrived.
“Well, I think they like the idea of being pioneers, of being the first children to attend a school of this type,” I said, as we walked from the front gate to the assembly hall.
I had no idea whether he’d taken this in until I heard his opening question to the children: “How many of you have heard of the Mayflower?”
He then delivered a 10-minute peroration about the virtues of the American pilgrims, comparing them to the 120 small people in front of him. The tone was perfect. He left them feeling on top of the world, as if they’d just embarked on a bold new adventure.
Young praised Gove as an education reformer, as “the most radical Education Secretary Britain has had in the post-war period and, as a result, standards have risen across the board.” Gove took on “the might of the educational establishment.”
But the prime minister candidate’s praise of the American pilgrims and the United States’ Declaration of Independence really stands out. To Americans it shows a noble willingness to advocate for the patriotism which drives our country and has inspired many Brits, from Edmund Burke to Winston Churchill to Margaret Thatcher.