By Andrew Taylor
For Michael Gove, the eye was always on the big prize. From columnist to Cabinet, the Oxbridge-educated Etonian always knew his domain. So, did this “Old Boys Club” favourite sow the seeds of his own demise, and who will have the last laugh in the Brexit fallout? Palatinate explores.
June 30th – it’s now one week past the Referendum and controversy strikes the press again – bookie favourite Johnson’s campaign has been decimated by headstrong partner Gove. Two schoolboys, once closest friends, now both desperately fighting for that one girl – the helm of the ship – Leader of the British Conservative Party. And a damp squid the fight was. So what went right, and where did it go so wrong for Michael Gove?
Gove and Johnson – household characters in themselves, correctly made the right gamble from Day One – the 52% bet. It was a given that David Cameron would cede captaincy in the result of a Brexit, so being at the forefront of the Leave campaign would be a front seat to party leadership, should an out vote occur. May was barely considered, being a Remainer. Osborne was seen as a resignation case if Cameron did too, and was not seen as prime-ministerial, despite his overall successful 2008 economic rescue. Angela Leadsom, the calm and measured television voice that bellowed through the airwaves, was a little-known figure in politics until her debate debut. The ex-London mayor was the solid choice.
Gove could have launched his own campaign from the start and thus should have resisted the Boris-endorsement temptation. In a lastminute.com decision, it all backfired for him. The media, the public, the Tories. It all added to his past demons of controversy as Education Secretary. Very quickly, it all fizzled out for Gove – no standing ovation. But that doesn’t answer the hot question – did Boris see a poison chalice?
It is a political certainty that only uncertainty will exist in the post-Brexit months. Johnson had the oration, the wit, the experience and the charm – so why would anyone with his hand of cards waste it in such a tumultuous time? Today’s Brexit era is indeed probably the most tumultuous since World War Two. This was far beyond the ex-mayor’s risk appetite, even for a man of the City. So Boris passed on his hand, rolling the dice for Gove et al. Chaos averted; political mastery.
In a couple of words, he offloaded a very large agglomeration of uncertainty onto his Tory peers and paved his own path for party leadership down the line. He has eliminated any risk of his legacy including: a second Scottish referendum, dismal post-Brexit economic growth, stagflation, dollar-sterling parity and plenty more. Whether we masquerade this as ‘Project Fear’ or basic economics, these risks are very real and the buck will no longer stop with Boris Johnson.
With the infighting in the Labour Party, a majority government for the party in the next general election is looking unlikely, following leader Jeremy Corbyn’s 172-40 no confidence vote. A second majority Conservative government is a very real possibility. Did Boris see the light? Is it indeed so that “all good things to those who wait?” Only history will tell, but the odds down the line are ever growing in Johnson’s favour. For the meantime, Labour has work – plenty of it. A disgruntled mist fills every corner of the Labour party’s arena. There are many factions keen to see a split inside the party, and with a recent suggestion by the headstrong leader that he will consider pursuing legal action if his name is left off an upcoming election battle, this is looking probable. Led by shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle, criticism of Corbynomics is in no short supply.
A poorly functioning opposition party riddled by infighting poses a hazard to efficient democratic process – this was admitted by the Prime Minister himself. It would indeed suit the Conservatives to see further challenges and unbinding votes of no confidence inside the Labour Party, but this creates a political version of X-inefficiency – the state whereby a company no longer innovates due to inefficient pressure from competitors. Eagle is spur-heading her campaign on the belief that the current state of the Labour party is not posed to form a competent and functional government, should a general election be called. The lack of a centrist, balanced alternative to the Conservatives creates a polarised political ecosphere for the electorate, faced with stark choices in ever-uncertain times. The risk of vote dilution is also real – a split Labour party could lead to a Centre-Leftist coalition with multiple pilots wanting to take charge of the controls – a separate risk in itself.
In times like today, a functioning, competent and dynamic government is needed more than ever. Political myopia is all too easy to pursue. The only route to progression will be for unity – for a wholly united, post-Brexit kingdom. It’s time to take off the thick reading glasses staring down at our eloquently pruned speeches and instead look beyond our own selfish individuality. Let’s not do a Gove.
Photograph via Policy Exchange