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 asked him about the leadership four years ago in an interview for The Spectator, and didn’t publish his answer as it didn’t seem much relevant than. It seems more so now. So here is his response, for the record:-
Fraser Nelson: I’ve heard it said that you promised Sarah [Vine, his wife] that you would never run for leader.
Michael Gove: That’s interesting, but not quite true. I’ll tell you exactly. I would never run for leader and one of the reasons I would never run for leader is that I know what the job entails. I know that, for me and my family, it would place an impossible burden on us. So it is not the case that the concession was wrung out of me at knifepoint by Sarah, nor did I say it to her at some point. It is one of those things in life where you talk about things, one of the points I made to her about politics is that if it ever becomes the case that the burden upon us is just intolerable, then we’ll have to take, I will have to take evasive action. I’d have to say “I’m sorry, I can’t carry on doing this”.
Already I feel it. Already, I’ve got to say that things I should be doing – speeches etc – sometimes I say: “;no, I’ve got to preserve some time for my family’. So as for getting in to a job like that, then: no. But in a way, the situation doesn’t arise because – irrespective of everything else – I know what leaders have. I know what it takes to be in that job and I just know, anyway, that I don’t have it. There are several people, I won’t name them all, in the shadow cabinet who could be Prime Minister. Fortunately the person who is best-equipped happens to be our leader. Of all the people in the shadow cabinet who could be Prime Minister, I know that I’m not one of them. Absolutely.
In terms of media presentation?
You know there is just an extra dimension. In the same way as if you are a journalist there is a limit to the number of jobs that you know you are able to do and some of us know that we could never have been editor. That doesn’t mean to say necessarily that we are tortured by self doubt but just that ..
Horses for courses?
UPDATE: I’ll add my own tuppenceworth to Decca Aitkenhead’s biographical piece. 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.)
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.Tags: Conservatives, Interviews, Michael Gove, UK politics