24 Feb 2016

Mrs Gove to No 10: can we still be friends?

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 23: Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, arrives to attend a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on February 23, 2016 in London, England. Prime Minister David Cameron will host the first cabinet meeting since a session on Saturday shortly after returning from an EU summit in Brussels. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Very rarely do you get an immediate candid political memoir from a central player. There is one in the Daily Mail today from Michael Gove’s wife, the sort of emotional and narrative detail you normally have to wait for memoirs to see.

The article is a public plea to the Camerons for understanding. Sarah Vine tries to take the blame for unintentionally being less than transparent when Mr Cameron checked on where Michael Gove was on the issue of Europe.

So misleading were these exchanges from Mr Cameron’s point of view that he ended up “shocked and hurt” when Michael Gove declared his hand. Sarah Vine is not only worried that “our dearest friends” might not stay friends, but also that her husband’s choice in the referendum might be “potentially career breaking.”

Anyone who has known David Cameron over the years will testify he has an elephantine memory when it comes to slights and wrongs. “He can hold a grudge for 1000 years,” said one minister, who has witnessed Mr Cameron’s extraordinary recall of obscure but offending remarks.

His memory of who said what in the 2005 leadership election can be particularly awesome, I am told. (It helps to explain some otherwise inexplicable promotions as well as some surprising dismissals or career stagnations.)

Some people with knowledge of both families think the Goves can probably forget it if they think that  relationship can be put back together again.

Michael Gove will not have helped things with his claim today, speaking exclusively to the BBC, that the changes trumpeted by David Cameron are not irreversible but eminently challengeable.

No. 10 slapped his opinion down saying it “is not true … the European Court of Justice (is required to) take this (the agreement of 28 EU leaders) into account.” No. 10 then pushed the present Attorney General and his immediate predecessor out the door to muddy the legal waters too.

Mrs Gove might find George Osborne, over time, an easier fix in the social diary than David Cameron.

The Chancellor will have been thoroughly narked by Michael Gove’s decision but will be expecting to win the referendum and calculating whether such a prominent Leave campaigner as Mr Gove could be a useful campaign manager in a future leadership contest, upsetting Boris Johnson’s own calculations.

For George Osborne, the political game might trump emotion.

Once again, Michael Gove’s choice of political terrain is the comfort No. 10 takes from all this. They don’t appreciate the clear implication that David Cameron’s telling porkies but they think the abstract notion of sovereignty and the obscure organogram of international courts will not swing votes.

The bigger problem Michael Gove provokes (enhanced by the defection of Boris Johnson he provoked) is how you pull the Tory Party back together again.

Michael Gove’s decision, and the Boris Johnson move it triggered, have moved the centre of gravity of the Tory Party, given cover to other MPs and ministers to opt for Leave and, altered the careerist MPs’ calculus of where their best interests lie.

Michael Gove told friends that having been the centre of attention at the end of last week he suddenly felt like a minor QPR transfer story over-shadowed by Lionel Messi when Boris hit the front pages.

History may record him a bigger role in modern Tory history.

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One reader comment

  1. Andrew Dundas says:

    Never mind about Gove vs Cameron, Londoners have a more difficult issue to cope with. Somebody thought a tongue twister for the new Reading to Shenfield line would suit our posh new line. Try saying ‘Elizabeth Line when you’ve had a drink or two !
    Something more suitable is needed. I suggest either Lizzie’s Line or Betty’s Line.
    Which would you chose?

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