Michael Gove has great qualities, but being popular with the general public is not one of them. He said many of the right things as Education Secretary, and passionately believed in raising expectations of pupils failed by the schools system. Advancing but also diluting the academies revolution is an important legacy, but I can’t help but recall that he allowed the marking system for GCSEs to be changed from letters to numbers, with 9 for best down to 1.
He made an impressive start on the rhetoric of prison reform as Justice Secretary, but he hasn’t had time to deliver much, apart from reversing a few of Chris Grayling’s worst policies.
And the legacy from his time at Education is that most teachers and parents flinch when they see him on TV. He is popular with Conservative Party members, and acquitted himself well during the EU referendum campaign, but the wider electorate is never going to warm to him.
Which is why his decision to stand for the leadership is so remarkable. Not only because he destroyed his so-called friend Boris Johnson in the process, issuing a statement saying: “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead", in the wake of which Boris declared that he would no longer stand in the leadership contest.
But it's also remarkable because he must know that he has even less chance of beating Theresa May if he makes it to the final two. This morning’s YouGov poll of Tory members, already out of date because it didn’t ask about Gove as a possible contender, found that they think May is a strong leader, good in a crisis and would be better than Johnson at negotiating the terms of Brexit. It found that they think Johnson is more in touch with people and has what it takes to win elections. What does Gove offer, apart from being charming, clever and socially concerned? He is the candidate of Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, and Rupert Murdoch, owner of The Sun and The Times. That is not a great pitch.
It was the prospectus offered in his wife Sarah Vine’s email, leaked yesterday, when she wrote that Dacre and Murdoch “instinctively dislike Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris-Gove ticket”.
I am told that Murdoch met Johnson the week before Johnson changed the course of history by coming out for Brexit, and that Johnson wouldn’t commit himself, if anything implying that he would support David Cameron. Murdoch was indeed unimpressed when Johnson then came out for Leave.
Gove implied that Johnson is less than wholly committed to actually taking Britain fully out of the EU, including the free movement of EU workers. But means that May is in a stronger position. She is almost certain to make it to the final two (although this morning Johnson was more certain than she was). The other candidate is likely to be Gove, although the way this thing is going who could rule out Stephen Crabb or even Liam Fox, the only authentic rightwinger among them?
Gove has destroyed his friend the Prime Minister. Then he destroyed his friend Johnson, leader of the Leave campaign. And he has also destroyed his own career. Good work.
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