Why is Gove so partial to CST?
At first glance, the recent spat between the Guardian and the Community Security Trust seems just a storm in a teacup. At the end of January, the Guardian's Rob Evans ran a poorly researched story about Education Secretary Michael Gove, who has for several years been a member of the CST's advisory board. Last year, Gove announced that he had "secured" some £2 million "to fund tighter security measures in Jewish faith schools". The Department for Education's statement naturally waxed lyrical about this, and enthused still further by pointing out that the money was actually to be distributed to 39 Jewish voluntary-aided faith schools on the taxpayer's behalf by none other than the CST.
Richard Benson, the CST's chief executive, was quoted as expressing his heartfelt thanks to Gove, while Joshua Rowe, chair of the trustees of the King David school, Manchester, pointed out that this funding was "a wonderful Chanucah present for the whole Jewish community".
But the statement was silent on Gove's role as an adviser to the CST and when corruption specialist Rob Evans discovered this fact he was he was sure he smelt a rat and determined to share its stench with the rest of us. His article suggested that Gove was somehow guilty of a conflict of interest and even that the CST might have retained some of the taxpayer's cash Gove had so thoughtfully secured. Adding insult to injury, and in a display of extremely poor timing, Evans's article appeared online on Holocaust Memorial Day. So the Guardian ended up with a great deal of CST-scrambled egg on its face.
Well, Gove wasn't guilty of any conflict of interest and the CST retained not so much as one penny of the funds he had made available to it. But if only Evans had dug deeper - and with more perspicacity - his story need not have ended (as it did) with an abject and shame-faced apology.
For starters, Evans ought to have asked himself and his readers not whether Mr Gove was on the CST's advisory board but why the money Mr Gove had so thoughtfully secured needed to be channelled through the CST - or indeed through any third party. Gove's press office assures me that there are plenty of precedents for the Department for Education utilising the services of so-called "third sector organisations", so relieving the Department of "the administrative burden of handling… individual Grant Funding Agreements for the schools".
But I remain unconvinced. As a taxpayer, I feel more than a shade uncomfortable about a private organisation - albeit a charity - deciding how my taxes should be spent. If Gove really wanted to call upon the services of an Anglo-Jewish body to assist him in deciding which schools were to receive a share of the earmarked security funds, why not partner with the charitable trust of the Board of Deputies, which is at least an elected assembly of sorts?
Why did Gove not partner with the Board of Deputies?
Even if there was, constitutionally, no conflict of interest, Gove surely owes us all a frank explanation as to why he favoured the CST over the Deputies in distributing the earmarked funds. In preferring the CST, he clearly made a choice. And, in making that choice, he is I'm afraid guilty of interfering in the internal affairs of Anglo-Jewry.
The major challenges faced by any organisation in the Anglo-Jewish world are lack of credibility and absence of legitimacy. Either or both can be acquired through wealth, of course, but either or both can also be obtained through "official" endorsement.
We all know that the role of the CST within Anglo-Jewry remains controversial. I'm entirely satisfied that the CST distributed to schools - and I imagine at some cost to itself in terms of bureaucratic effort - every pound of the £2 million of your money and mine made available through Gove's good offices. But consider what it received in return: the coveted imprimatur of Her Majesty's government - to say nothing of the precedent that has been created and reinforced. Any voluntary-aided school (or other Anglo-Jewish organisation) that wants to receive or continue to receive security-related taxpayer funding now knows it will have to keep in the good books of Mr Benson and his colleagues in Hendon.
All this has been achieved by kind permission of Michael Gove. That's the significance of his extraordinary, possibly divisive, initiative.