Michael Gove, environment secretary, told the BBC* he was ‘ready’ to join the Tory leadership battle. ‘Ready’ to unite the party; ‘ready to deliver Brexit’; ‘ready to unite this country’.
In a clip lasting 27 seconds, Gove repeated ‘ready’ five times.
Repetition is a Gove trademark. Rory Bremner satirised Gove’s approach in 2013. When asked if his claims about teenagers’ historical ignorance was based on unreliable surveys**, the Gove impersonator invoked Newton’s First Law of Public Relations: if you repeat anything enough times in the media it becomes a fact.
But Gove’s oratorical style is not the focus of this article. It’s Gove’s inability to bring people together.
Gove, as education secretary, relished division. People were either for him or against him. He presented his policies as a battle between those who supported his reforms and those who didn’t. Those who opposed him were vilified as the ‘Blob’, Marxists peddling a bigoted, backward bankrupt ideology, enemies of promise.
After Gove was heckled at the NAHT annual conference in 2013, the then CBI chief John Cridland said the education secretary needed to carry school leaders with him but was failing to do so.
A year later, ‘private polling’ revealed Gove had become toxic. The then PM, David Cameron, sacked him. Gove’s notorious special adviser, Dominic Cummings, boasted how ‘we’ deliberately subverted ‘every W/hall and No 10 process’.
Ministerial behaviour which allows a prime minister to be undermined in such a calculating way is not unifying, it’s destructive.
David Laws described Gove’s Department for Education as ‘maverick’ and out of control. And while Laws told the Times Gove could be a future Tory leader, his Coalition Diaries describe Gove’s character faults particularly his unwillingness to compromise, fierce protection of pet policies and his desire to win.
But Gove has always said he had no desire to win top job. During his first stab at the leadership in July 2016, after knifing Boris, he passionately denied he wanted to become prime minister. But three years before in 2013, Nick Cohen, in a Guardian article which foreshadowed David Laws’ exposé of the DfE’s poisonous atmosphere, revealed that Cameron feared Gove was preparing a leadership bid.
Speaking to Nick Robinson yesterday, Gove said he had ‘evolved’ as a politician – that was why he’d thrown his hat in the ring. But even in this interview, his first after saying he would stand, he repeated the myth that his father’s business had been ruined by the EU fisheries policy. But that wasn’t quite true.
But half-truths aside (and Gove has spouted many of them), the fact remains that Gove is not a unifier. After undermining Cameron and knifing Boris Johnson, the Telegraph asked:
‘…can you really claim to be a unifying figure when you've destroyed not one but two of your closest Conservative allies?’
It’s a question those who are able to vote in the upcoming leadership election should ponder.
**Gove’s use of dodgy surveys was first debunked on this site.