Just as Alec Douglas-Home was ultimately the chief beneficiary of Tony Benn’s campaign to disclaim his life peerage, I now find myself wondering whether Michael Gove is the one who stands to gain the most from Ed Miliband’s current politicking.
Gove’s main problem in becoming leader of his party, it seems to me, is that he looks a bit odd, and the conventional wisdom in British politics for twenty years now has worked against the interests of people who aren’t conventionally telegenic and blandly Anglo. But Miliband looks a bit odd, too, and clearly part of his strategy at the moment is to get voters used to the idea that a Prime Minister might look a bit odd. Hence, for example, the passage about looking like Wallace from Wallace & Gromit in his speech on Englishness a few weeks ago.
If Miliband loses the 2015 election, then the conventional wisdom that odd-looking people don’t succeed in British electoral politics will be reinforced. And if the Tories unambiguously win that election, then there’s less likely to be a leadership vacancy any time soon. But if Miliband wins, Gove will be in an excellent place to succeed to Cameron’s throne. Miliband will have demonstrated that fortysomething men who look a bit funny can win elections, and presumably Osborne’s star will also be continuing to fall in the political firmament, since it’s hard to see how the chap who has been running the British economy could come out of an electoral beating looking like a decent prospect for the future.
Asked by crazy right-wing magazine Standpoint whether he was going to be leader one day, Gove replied:
“No, I’m constitutionally incapable of it. There’s a special extra quality you need that is indefinable, and I know I don’t have it. There’s an equanimity, an impermeability and a courage that you need. There are some things in life you know it’s better not to try.”
But I’m inclined to discount this almost to zero. Gove can’t use the Heseltine formula–that he cannot foresee the circumstances in which he might run–as that’s universally understood these days as code that he’s itching to be party leader; and if I’m right that Gove depends on Miliband to succeed in the medium term for his own political fortunes to flourish over the longer run, he has a particularly strong interest in not being publicly associated with such an ambition, since it’d be tantamount to declaring his own interest in seeing his own party soundly beaten at the polls.
And things seem to be going in the right direction for him. His own political stock seems to be rising in the party, he isn’t associated with economic policy, and even if Miliband isn’t yet on course to win the election in 2015, Cameron is very clearly on course to lose.