On Michael Gove

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.

10 thoughts on “On Michael Gove”

  1. The case against.

    he isn’t associated with economic policy

    That’s true. But he is leaving quite a lot of little, local landmines scattered around the educational world. Any one of of these new academies or Free Schools could blow up in his face (consider Beccles). Starting new schools of any stripe is hard: stuff goes wrong all the time. & if this happens to even a minority of Free Schools each report on each problem will inevitably contain Gove’s name.

    Also, after Cameron, sure the backwoodsmen and women are going to want someone from outside the Notting Hlil Mafia? & someone not quite so obviously a loyal fan of the wounded Murdoch?

    So simply ‘looking odd’ in a potential future when the PM also ‘looks odd’ many not quite be enough to crack it for Mr.Gove.

  2. Interesting… very interesting.

    I think there’s something in this, although if I were a betting man (which I’m not) my money would be down on Boris Johnson to win the leadership in 2015. Mainly because Johnson is completely unassociated with the current govt – and also appears popular with a lot of voters. And in the current Tory party, those two attributes are trading at a premium.

    But in terms of current cabinet ministers, I’d agree Mickey Gove has probably the best shot. Although in the event of the Tory party taking a rabid right-wing turn (always easy for them), Liam Fox has to be in there as a wild card shot… although they might go for one of the fresh right wingers like my MP Priti Patel, Gawd ‘elp us.

    You’re right to discount the Standpoint quote: remember Mrs T in 1970 or thereabouts? “We’ll never see a female PM in my lifetime”. Ho ho.

  3. CMcM: I agree with most of this. Obviously I was leaving a lot of highly relevant political stuff out, and you’re right that Gove would have to face a challenge from the Coalition-sceptical Right. But I think two of the risks you pick out–that free schools may backfire, and his closeness to the Murdoch gang–aren’t likely to be especially damaging to his career ambitions. The Tories are too keen on the new schools to be especially bothered if lots of them turn out to be an expensive waste of money, and I can’t yet see the party turning on Murdoch en bloc.

  4. And there’s always the Boris factor: the apparent law of politics that looking, acting and talking like a gibbering fuckwit may not necessarily stand in one’s way.

  5. Chris: yeah, but no, but…

    …actually, it may depends on how far the backwoodsmen and women are up for a Kulturkampf again that scourge of modern society…. the school governor.. As a candidate for this year’s Enemy Within, I’m not sure school governors make quite such a good bogeyman as the NUM.

    Philip Hammond is the sanest Tory Minster on the telly I reckon, not Gove. It depends if, post Cameron, the Tories want a return to the glory days of Michael Howard or to remain on speaking terms with the rest of the country.

  6. In my former homeland of the south east there was a derelict house on a main road which I think belonged to somebody called Michael Critchley, and he had a large sign up right next to the road which said something rambling about somebody in the Tory Party and was frequently vandalised, and later it had added to it the stencil, “Gove vandals keep off”. Had I known at the time that the gnome-like one would become so prominent then I might have made more effort to record the details for posterity but back then I paid even less attention to Conservatives than I do now.

  7. Any one of of these new academies or Free Schools could blow up in his face

    Yes, but what happens if nobody cares? One of the characteristics of scorched-earth freemarketism is that you can always blame the failures on the same people who your policy was designed to scapegoat.

    It’s quite a familiar pattern: we can see large segments of public policy in the UK or US (or elsewhere) which have been consistent failures over the past couple of generatons, which have made problems much worse, but which respond to that failure by intensifying themselves. I’m thinking of prison policy, drugs policy, welfare policy and so on. In each instance you cast the problem in moral terms, people who need to be blamed and punished, and hence when the policy does not suceeed you obviously need to step up the punishment further. It simply feeds on itself.

    although if I were a betting man (which I’m not) my money would be down on Boris Johnson

    A pedant writes: if you were indeed a betting man you would know that this statement is contingent on the odds being offered.

  8. A pedant writes: if you were indeed a betting man you would know that this statement is contingent on the odds being offered.

    Paddy Power (for example) has Boris at 6/1 to be next Tory leader… at those odds I’d be putting my money down now.

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