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Michael Gove: why I’ll never run for leader

6 October 2012

Today’s Guardian magazine runs a Michael Gove profile, colouring him blue on the cover as if to alert readers to the threat he poses. “Smoother than Cameron,” it warns. “Funnier than Boris. More right-wing than both. Are you looking at the next leader of the Tory Party?” There is nothing unusual about leadership speculation following a  prominent Tory frontbencher, but there is something unusual about the way Gove has ruled it out in almost any way imaginable. He has combined General Sherman and Estelle Morris, saying he wouldn’t and couldn’t do  the job. It is now being said that Gove is protesting too much, but he has been clear about this for years.

I’ll add my tuppenceworth. Gove was once, briefly, my news editor at The Times. Their Scotland Correspondent had quit, they had run out of time to hire a replacement and found me (I sound Scottish to English people) loitering around the business desk.  My reservation was that The Times seemed to be filled with people whose, insofar as they thought about Scotland, were interested in haggis and monsters. I didn’t want to work for a news desk that thought Brigadoon was a documentary and for bosses who were only vaguely aware about having Scottish staff. (I eventually quit after they kept calling me “Jason” – the name of my predecessor – a year into the job.)

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But they sold Scotland to me by saying I’d be working to John Mair, one of the nicest guys ever to walk Fleet St and to the new news editor Michael Gove, who was obviously being groomed as a future editor. Being a news editor for Fleet St is a bit like being a Sergeant Major in the marines: your job is to bully and be hated. Gove, who was charmingly polite even to lowlife juniors like me, seemed comically miscast. Word soon got around: when offered the job, he said his main reservation about being news editor was that he would “not be any good” at it. No one admits this in journalism! Gove had shown the absolute opposite of the moth-to-the-flame ambition that young journalists (and politicians) are supposed to possess. Reporters thought that he would, as a result, be a disaster, that his appointment was like sending Gandhi to secure Arnhem bridge. But Gove made his news editorship into a triumph by inspiring, rather than terrifying, his writers. In the macho world of Fleet St, this was a very difficult trick to pull off.

My point: Gove didn’t plot his way to the top, but was pulled there nonetheless. His skills trumped his lack of ambition. He is the sort guy who has greatness thrust upon him. And much as though he may hate the experience, this could certainly happen again.

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Show comments
  • Dreary Steeples

    You forgot about a little soldering.

    • therealguyfaux

      Or even “soldiering,” for that matter. But would they be the officer corps, or the enlisted? That can make all the difference!

  • Alan Douglas

    “Peter Hain today described Education Secretary Michael Gove as
    “screaming like a demented child” after the pair were alleged to have
    had a set-do in Parliament.

    And of course that ghastly failure Peter Hain is a totally impartial witness ….

    Alan Douglas

  • Mr Arthur Cook

    Re. “Labour hate him with a passion, the teaching unions see him as a
    threat and the right think he’s too good at his job and is therefore a
    threat to the leader”.
    Absolutely!! – he must be doing something right to get this response. If fact his magnificent reform programme is so brilliant that it’s even better than you offer. In addition to “Labour” and “teacher’s unions” he’s also alienated head teachers, the Welsh education minister, parents, pupils, the head of OFQUAL and he’s doing it so “right” that he’s even managed to get the Conservative Chair of the Parliamentary Cross party committee on education to openly state that the reform process is in chaos, and confusion and that Michael needs to “stop taking the urgent pills”.
    When lots of people tell you “you’re making a mess”…it is possible that they are envious of your brilliance and success.
    It is also conceivable that when lots of people tell you “you’re making a mess”……it’s because … are making a mess!

  • telemachus

    Cameron should be the last Conservative leader
    Cameron should be the last Conservative leader he inevitable merger with UKIP
    Then Farage or Fox as leader

  • TJ Baxter

    Having read the original post and the comments I can add, with some glee, that Michael Gove must be doing something right.

    Labour hate him with a passion, the teaching unions see him as a threat and the right think he’s too good at his job and is therefore a threat to the leader.

    The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, that Michael Gove is an absoluteley charming and intelligent man who is always more polite and informed than his Parliamentary opponents and because of this he is derided as a snooty, arrogant man. Anyone who watches him at the dispatch box can see that he is unfailingly polite and always on-top of his brief.

    Even at the start of this Parliamentary term when he was being “misled” ( misled is a polite term I choose to use as opposed to sabotaged by sleepers) by his civil service team about the old BSF ( Building for Schools) programme he maintained his poise at the dispatch box.

    If only more of the front bench had his mental acuity and his personality.

    I’m sure I’ll be sniped at for this post. I can guarantee that not many people here will have watched as much of the business in the Chamber on BBC Parliament as I have in the last 3 years. Michael Gove is damned good at his job.

  • Anthony Makara

    Gove’s personality is too contrived to ever make him leadership material. One senses with Gove, a man of uncertain backround who seeks to don the cloak of the upper class. A poshness manufactured out of insecurity and hostage to traits that border on the pompous and preposterous. From the silly scarf to the tilted head, it all looks so bogus. A potential leader would not be given to such crass play acting.

  • anyfool

    I see your Electroconvulsive Therapy failed, i told you that prick Miliband’s Wind Turbines do not work, ah well back to the Lithium for you.

  • james102

    I agree it would be very difficult for anyone outside the
    political class’s normal background, wonkdom, media, law, to operate but I also
    think this is the reason our politicians are so useless.

    The politicians you mention operated in an age when they
    were not expected to actually manage departments something we do expect now as
    can be seen from the recent Rail contract farce. Churchill tried, Gallipoli,
    Norway and look at the results! One inch to either side by a Turkish sniper and
    I for one would never have been born. His dealings with financiers alone such
    as Sir Robert Waley Cohen would have finished him in modern politics.

    Somehow we need to attract people with a wider range of
    experience into politics or put up with a situation where untried people such
    as Cameron, Miliband, and Blair etc get their first test of senior management
    running the country.

    • 2trueblue

      I agree. We do not need any more politicians who have actually done nothing in the real world. They are too inexperienced in any field and have spent their lives mostly in politics. Their span of knowledge in anything is zilch. They then live in this rarefied atmosphere of the Westminster bubble and learn even less of what it is all about. The civil service was so politicised by Blairs government and is full of people who have even less knowledge how to negotiate their way out of a paper bag. Frankly they are all overrated, overpaid and ruling over us!

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