It’s not unreasonable to expect any incoming Secretary of State to require in depth briefings on a new role. Any MP who is elevated to a position of authority within one of Whitehall’s departments would expect their leading civil servants to sit down with them and help them get up to speed with the current issues, the policies they’ve been working on and to point out any difficulties and issues there might be. This kind of thing happens in local elections, general elections, European elections. When you’re the new supremo you want the support of the people who will be working with you.
Bear in mind then that Michael Gove MP has a track record of opposing many policies (as detailed in today’s edition of The Independent) here in the UK. He wont have had the same in depth briefings as the Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs on matters pertaining to the environment, climate change, farming and fisheries when he was SoS for Education … but … whilst schools and education are often a matter of policy and funding (and can be extremely emotive), ‘the environment’ is loaded with science, evidence and policy is founded on that. He has systematically opposed reams of legislation designed to protect, enhance and safeguard our local, national and global environments. He has chosen to reject science (provided by experts) in order to further the aims of those who have persuaded him that setting carbon targets is not a good idea. He even voted to apply the Climate Change Levy tax to electricity generated from renewable sources.
Pity, then, the civil servants in one of Government’s weakest departments, where after cut after cut the one thing they needed was strong leadership and they got Gove. Imagine briefing the man who not only failed to support your policies but actively condemned them.
At a local level I have briefed consecutive Cabinet members in the city council in Sheffield. They may not have had the education of Gove (he attended Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford), but they each approached the role with an open mind willing to listen to the officers who were professional with expertise and experience. I hope Gove is big enough to be open minded, to ask for advice and to seek expertise. If he does he has the chance to deliver the UK’s commitment to the Paris Agreement and deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. If he doesn’t, we might just end up no better off than the USA under Trump when it comes to climate change.