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Gove Alone: Not Lost In Cheltenham

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You may have heard the news about Lord Chancellor Michael Gove and his journalist wife Sarah Vine. The powerful(ish) couple have landed themselves in hot water for leaving their 11-year-old son alone in a hotel room for several hours while they went to a party.

Michale Gove, Sarah Vine, children, parenting, Hone Alone,
Michael Gove, without his son. Maybe he was left at a nearby hotel? Pic credit: iStock

I can think of many reasons to question Gove’s judgment. Firstly, he is an arch-Brexiteer and secondly, his tenure as Education Secretary was, frankly awful. As for Sarah Vine, well, she writes for an excitable right-leaning newspaper that I shan’t name.

On this occasion, however, I think we have to ask whether the couple’s actions warrant the public flagellation they seem to be receiving. Is it so shocking to leave a child of that age on their own for a while?

Yesterday I took part in a discussion on LBC radio with well-known parenting writer Sue Atkins. Sue wasn’t particularly impressed with Gove and Vine’s actions (for ease and amusement, I shall henceforth refer to them as the Gones, pronounced Goans). I found myself in the awkward position of concluding their actions were questionable, but weren’t that bad.

Garnering information from several different newspapers, this is what appears to have happened:

  • A couple of weeks ago, The Gones were staying at a bed in breakfast in central Cheltenham called No.38 The Park. They were to attend a party to mark the end of the Cheltenham Literary Festival.
  • Their son didn’t want to attend so they said he could stay in the hotel.
  • It seems the Gone’s told hotel staff their boy was staying in the hotel and they were asked to keep a look out for him.
  • The Gone’s are reported to have left at 1930hrs saying they would be back “in a couple of hours”.
  • The party was being held at No.131, a sister property to No.38 The Park, just a mile away. Contact between the two establishments, you imagine, should have been very straightforward in an emergency situation.

This is where things seem to go awry. The Gones’ son was apparently found by a hotel porter outside of the hotel room. He was asking for the whereabouts of his parents. The porter made several attempts to call the Gones’ mobiles but the party was being held in a place with no mobile reception. The Gone’s eventually rolled in at 0130hrs.

On the face of it, this doesn’t sound or look good. My defence of the Gones will only go so far and there are a few unanswered questions.

Several newspapers have quoted Government guidelines saying children under the age of 12 should not be left alone. As hotel staff were present and aware the boy was in the hotel, it can be argued he wasn’t alone.

There’s a further fact conveniently missed by all the papers, yet available for anyone who can be bothered to visit Michael Gove’s website. The Gone’s child isn’t a young 11: he turns 12 next month. Okay, yes, he presently falls outside the Government’s guidelines for being left alone, but it’s not like his age is in single figures.

I’m also curious to know why the hotel porter supposedly chose to call the Gone’s mobile phones. Could he/she not have called the sister hotel directly?

I’d like to think the Gone’s had left the full array of contact details both with their child and hotel staff. If the Gones didn’t leave these details, I would have to conclude they made a mistake of epic proportions. Again, these details haven’t made it into the public domain.

During the LBC discussion, Sue Atkins made an excellent point: how did the child feel? He may have been perfectly happy being on his own and quite capable of looking after himself for a few hours, but his mum and dad stayed out for much longer than the allotted “couple of hours.”

It’s quite understandable the child could have been distressed if they stayed out for such a long time, especially if they didn’t make clear where they were and all the different ways they could be contacted.  Alas, we just don’t know exactly what happened.

We also don’t know the nature of the conversation with the hotel porter. Finding a child huddled in a corner crying is one thing. Having an 11-year-old say: “Mum and dad must be having a great time mustn’t they? They were meant to be back hours ago.”

As a kid, I can recall flying out to Spain as an unaccompanied minor on a couple of occasions. I would have been about the age of the Gone’s boy, in fact probably a little younger.

I appreciate this isn’t an exact comparison, but kids shouldn’t be wrapped up in cotton wool. They have to learn to fend for themselves.

The Gone’s case raises a whole host of questions about what they did and didn’t do. They shouldn’t have returned so late after promising their boy they’d be back in a couple of hours. I’d also like to think details of their whereabouts about how to get hold of them were freely available to those who needed it.

The idea of leaving an 11-year-old alone for a few hours? I struggle to find it that shocking.

What do you think? At what age did you leave your children alone? Have you ever done the same as the Gones? Please leave a comment below with your thoughts.

14 thoughts on “Gove Alone: Not Lost In Cheltenham”

  1. This is the first I have heard of this story, but I can’t find anything to defend the parents. Guidelines are for 12, the child was 11, and he wasn’t being watched by a dedicated minder.

    I am reminded of someone I know in New Zealand. He grew up in a rural farming area, and his parents left him and his younger siblings regularly. With a loaded gun for protection.

    1. It’s all shades of grey I think Simon. I don’t really agree with how the Gones handles this, but I don’t think they did anything off the scale. At least no shotguns were involved.

  2. While you make some good points, it seems from several reports that the boy was distressed which makes this a problem. And secondly, we all know what she would say given half a chance in her column about other people who do things like this, so she might want to think twice before judging.

    Frankly the mental picture of Gove dancing is more than I can stand on a Monday.

    1. I haven’t seen anything suggesting the boy was distressed myself. Ultimately, and this is hard for me to admit, but this is Michael Gove and Sarah Vine so the established media are going to tear them apart whatever they say and do. The Blurred Lines thing, however, is quite nauseating.

  3. I think it’s a case of knowing your child. The 12 figure is a guideline not law. Every child will be different at 11, 12 and 13.

    People are quick to judge when they don’t know either the parents nor child involved

    1. This is very true Neil. It’s why a law setting down an age would be unworkable. A 13 year old can be a total liability whereas an 11 year old can be very grown up. So hard to tell and we shouldn’t be quick to judge.

  4. I think it’s totally wrong! Yes, he was in a hotel with staff, but if he could wander the corridors, anyone could have picked him up. I wouldn’t leave my kids home alone until they started secondary school (or in about year 4 with a reliable big brother), but never for more than an hour until they were much older. Will leave my eldest at home for half a day, but that’s at home, in the daytime. He’s 15, not 11 and it’s not late at night in a strange hotel in a strange town.
    If they said they were going to be a ‘couple of hours’, they should have been a couple of hours!

    1. Na ha! Someone with an unequivocal view. I’m not sure the Gones handled the situation perfectly but I find it hard to believe what they did was off the scale. Quite agree though, if Brexit means Brexit, two hours should have meant two hours.

    2. Definitely with Sarah on this one. At 11, left alone at 7.30 to go out and party and not roll until around 1am? No. Not on. Could easily become distressed. Still just a child. A couple of hours from half seven is half nine. Not half one. Can totally understand at that age why you’d start to become upset if the partying parents didn’t materialise until after midnight.

      1. Yean, I’m not presuaded the Goans handled this one entirely correctly. Coming back six hours later wasn’t clever but I think an 11 year old probably can be trusted to look after themselves for a couple of hours.

  5. I have some sympathy with the Gones. We’ve all been in the situation where we have a commitment (work or social) and our child doesn’t want to go.
    Yes they shouldn’t have stayed out so long, yes they should have checked in, but there were adults available if the boy needed help and if he was refusing/ pleading not to go I can see why they left him.

    Of course they might be totally irresponsible parents who neglect their child and this is just one example of it.

    1. Yeah, the difficulty is we just don’t know do we Kate? I’m inclined to think at 11 year old should be able to handle being without their parents for a few hours. Should the Gones have returned after a couple of hours to check on their boy? Well, yes, I think they should. Maybe they have learned their lesson after this experience?

  6. I used to fly as an unaccompanied minor (or whiner as my older brother called me) across Canada. In theory a flight attendant was meant to look out for me, especially if I had to connect flights which I often did. I remember being 10 years old and walking off the plane at a connecting airport hiding my badge saying I was an unaccompanied minor and wandering the airport for an hour before making my connecting flight. It was exhilarating (and gave me a real love of flying solo!). I think when there is an understanding of boundaries and structures, slowly building up children’s independence is a good thing. Maybe this was done by Gove and his wife, maybe not. Is it better or worse than accidentally leaving your child at the pub a la David Cameron?

    1. I have just realised who you are Kate! I’m with you. Were you sensible enough not to run out the airport? It seems you were. You have to build up children’s independence or else you are failing to prepare them for adulthood. If I’d been left alone in a hotel at that age, I would have considered it an adventure. That said, in those circumstances, two hours should have meant two hours.

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