If a little learning is a dangerous thing, too much can be lethal. The time comes to consider whether all the decades of intense tuition about the worthlessness of a politician's ritual denial of personal ambition has fatally misled us. When Michael Gove insists that under no circumstances, foreseeable or otherwise, would he ever accept the Tory leadership, could it be that he means what he says?
Ordinarily, in a world in which every one us has an A* in Political Disingenuity Studies, this would qualify as one of those enquiries known to Latin teachers, in the distant era to which the Education Secretary longingly harks, as "a question demanding the answer No". And yet the more one examines Mr Gove, the less ordinary he appears.
He is hardly to all tastes – and, in significant ways, by no means to mine. But his plan to revolutionise secondary education, allied to the impressive speech he made in May about the evil of social immobility entrenched by private schooling, demands the suspension of cynicism for five minutes. In this context, he is a brave, serious-minded and principled figure in an age not notably overstocked with them.
Judging how well Mr Gove's Educational Baccalaureate will work, five years before it comes into effect, is pointless. There is a whiff – from his intent to introduce far more rigour – of educational Darwinism. Only the cerebrally strongest, it appears from the scant detail released so far, will survive.
Eventually, Mr Gove will be judged on more than whether his changes improve undergraduates and the ratio of state/public school students at Oxbridge. Even more important is rescuing the millions doomed to poor literacy and numeracy by the accidents of their birth, and this baccalaureate will mean nothing to them. If his passion for increasing social mobility, however stirring, is restricted to those who appear in the wettest of Tory dreams in revived grammar schools, he will have failed.
Mr Gove's plan, in part thanks to its 1950s twang, is so popular with his own party that only his categorical denials of leadership ambitions prevents him becoming Boris Johnson's only genuine rival to succeed David Cameron in the event of a bus-related accident.
Why someone so able and well-liked is so contemptuous of such a universal political ambition is a bit of mystery. That smug fizzog is ill-suited to this presidential-televisual age. So maybe Mr Gove has taken to heart Dirty Harry's injunction, issued long before Clint Eastwood's double act with the chair, that a man's gotta know his limitations.
Another limitation, which of course goes for Boris as well, is his proudly iterated adoration of Rupert Murdoch. It was cute timing that news of Mr Gove's EBacc shared front pages with the claim that the News of the World commissioned burglaries. If it teaches anything about the morality of the Conservative Party that its two best-loved young lions are the two staunchest defenders of Mr Murdoch alive, it is not an original lesson.
Yet while the Education Secretary would dismiss the subject as just the sort of option he wants to can, I urge him to think again and include Media Studies in the baccalaureate. It would be a very useful addition to the curriculum indeed.