30 Jun 2016

Michael Gove has done a double Brutus


Last night as the Tory family put down its weapons, Mafia style, to break bread at a fundraising dinner at the Hurlingham Club in Fulham, West London, Michael Gove was putting the finishing touches to his surprise bid for the premiership.

Boris Johnson aides had over-briefed how committed Mr Gove was to the Johnson cause. Mrs Gove’s leaked email yesterday showed things had not been shaken on by Tuesday morning, despite Team Boris saying that Gove was their campaign manager.

In huddles outside the Hurlingham Club, while the rest of the Tory Party bigwigs ate and drank inside, Mr Gove was in tense talks with aides and phoning colleagues before making his final decision.

With a perfunctory call very close to the press statement announcing his candidacy, he has abruptly arrested and probably completely destroyed Boris Johnson’s chances of becoming PM.

The PM’s circle were already calling him Brutus. Samantha Cameron has told friends she will never speak to the Goves again.

Now the Johnsons’ dinner parties are off limits.

Can he become PM?

Michael Gove has gone a lot further than others in the past in ruling himself out not on grounds of skill or ambition but on grounds of temperament. He said repeatedly that he didn’t have the calm serenity of mind and the thick skin required to do the job.

Some people very close to him, some in the party, probably George Osborne with whom he managed to stay in touch throughout the turmoil and bitterness of the campaign, have helped to change his mind. The adulation of Tories and the right wing press has played a role too

On Tuesday, Rupert Murdoch at The Times CEO summit said that Michael Gove should be the UK’s next Prime Minister. The Daily Mail editor in chief Paul Dacre has long wanted it. The Goves are very close to the Mail proprietor and his wife, the Rothermeres.

I write this at the Theresa May campaign launch against a backdrop of weathered serious volumes in a Whitehall think tank – in praise of experts perhaps.

Chris Grayling announced he’ll chair her campaign – so that’s one campaign manager who turned up to do the job today.

Theresa May talked about the need for competence in the aftermath of the referendum. Her supporters cast her as an Angela Merkel figure, a serious leader for serious times. Sometimes she sticks her neck out, as with her attacks on the Police in the past. Sometimes, more often, she pulls her neck in. Today she exuded authority but didn’t say anything shocking. She said there must be no attempt to rejoin the EU, no general election until 2020 (very appealing to Tories in marginal seats), no moving Article 50 before the end of this year (EU leaders want it pretty much the moment the new PM takes over) and there should be a priority to avoid tax increases.

The Times/YouGov poll of Tory members put Mrs May comfortably ahead of Boris Johnson. We must now see what a Gove candidacy does to those numbers. There was no love lost between Theresa May and Michael Gove over the years. He once chastised her at the Cabinet table for flashing her ambitions in public. They’ve fallen out over security policy and more besides.

Now there’s a decent chance they are the two candidates that MPs vote to go to the country. The Home Secretary is hardly a selfie-magnet, not a street campaigner or known for generating warmth or having great voter reach.

Michael Gove has been seen by people paid by the Tory Party to measure such things as a repelling magnet for some voters. They see massive unrivalled appeal for core supporters but find him a genuine turn-off for floating voters.

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