Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Nothing to say for yourself, Mr Gove?

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Michael Gove’s gratuitous references to sex are increasingly troubling. Last month he claimed that hi-tech entrepreneurs from overseas were attracted to London by the prospect of “loads of hot sex”.

Yesterday he accused his Labour opposite number Tristram Hunt of “having had more contorted positions on free schools than some Indian sex manuals I could name”. Note the judicious use of the plural; it’s not just the Kama Sutra the Education Secretary is familiar with! 

It’s not clear whether Gove is doing this to show he is as much an alpha male as his putative rival Boris Johnson. Or to underline that in any row with the wimpish Liberal Democrats he’s the kind of macho dude who will always end up on top.

This spat was one over the Lib Dems’ complaint that the “ideologically obsessed zealot” Gove has raided £400m from the basic-needs education funds to fill a “black hole” in the budget for his cherished free schools, and on which he was summoned to the Commons by Hunt. Intriguingly, the Lib Dem Schools’ Minister David Laws was not sitting beside him.

Officially, Laws was “attending meetings inside the department and elsewhere”. More mysteriously still, “Tory sources” said that Gove and Laws had “kissed and made up” earlier in the day. So was Laws absent to show loyalty to Gove’s enemy Nick Clegg by not showing loyalty to Gove himself? Or had this been the kind of “kiss and make up” event that left Laws prostrate in a darkened room nursing a black eye?

Ministers are supposedly “dragged” to the Commons by these “Urgent Questions”; yesterday Gove bounded enthusiastically to the dispatch box prepared with a fluent catechism of how much more money the Coalition was spending on school places in the constituencies of complaining Labour MPs than the previous government (which is only castigated as spendthrift when it helps the present one’s case) and revelling  in the support of some of them for local free schools.

In contrast, Hunt’s attack on him for raiding “the schools budget to pay for pet political projects in expensive, half-empty, and under-performing free schools” was short, almost perfunctory. “Is that it?” gleefully exclaimed junior education minister Liz Truss when he had finished.

Gove made no effort to deny – or even answer – the specific charge of raiding the mainstream schools budget. But then the problem with the shameless is they’re pretty hard to shame.