'Boris was blown up by a political psychopath but it was Mrs Gove who detonated the bomb': RACHEL JOHNSON'S lacerating verdict on her brother's betrayal
She will do the job in front of her, and is not a showy politician – as I saw a few months ago.
We were chatting, and it was going quite well until a stranger came up and asked if she could take a selfie with us. I can’t resist ticking the self-publicity box most of the time, but I do know my place.
I glanced at the Home Secretary for permission. Mrs May gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head. It was a no. Cometh the woman, then?
I mean Sarah Vine, of course.
It was funny ha-ha at first when she wrote in her column that she and her hubby Michael Gove would be running the country on a joint mandate.
‘Given Michael’s high-profile in the Leave campaign,’ she wrote, ‘that means he – we – are now charged with implementing the instructions of 17 million people. And that is an awesome
That royal ‘we’ between dashes was borderline bonkers enough, but it was followed by a leaked private email that ended up on the front pages because in it, Vine urged Gove to be his ‘stubborn best’, as he deployed his ‘leverage’ with his Brexit buddy Boris.
Vine entreated her husband to be sure to win ‘specific assurances’ before he signed on the dotted line and handed his support and the assumed backing of two newspaper barons, ‘Dacre/Murdoch’, on a plate to the triumphant blonde, London’s former mayor, who had come on board and delivered them such an unexpected and stunning victory.
Nobody knew whether it had been leaked, or had misfired, but it was a bit whiffy and rum.
Even at that stage only the most crackpot conspiracy theorists could have guessed what was to come next in this multi-act, rolling, live-blogged Shakespearean tragedy.
Michael Gove knifed Boris Johnson in the back and in the front, pushed him under a bus, ran over him several times (thank you Piers Morgan for this image) and then declared he was running for the leadership himself.
This, coupled with the new arithmetic in terms of supportive MPs, meant that Gove’s co-skipper was holed below the waterline and forced to abandon ship at his own launch.
Now we are where we are, as everyone keeps saying, and we know a bit more about where that is.
Brexit means Brexit. At some point Article 50 will be invoked. And never again listen to what a politician says. Watch what he or she does.
Gove was well known to be an ideological ninja, with his posters of Che Guevara and Chairman Mao on his wall, but when it came to the top job he was an avowed cleanskin.
He had no leadership ambitions. After all, he’d said so many times: ‘If anyone wants me to sign a piece of parchment in my own blood saying I don’t want to be PM I’m happy to do that.’
‘I’m not equipped to be PM. I don’t want to be PM.’
‘I am an inconceivable choice. I don’t want to do it. I wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t matter how many people asked me to do it,’ etc, etc…
And then, on Thursday, he executed the most egregious reverse ferret and act of treachery in modern political history since… well, let’s just say since Michael Gove backed Brexit against the wishes of his good friend David Cameron.
He did a lap of honour of the studios, saying to interviewers that friends had been begging him to do it and telling him: ‘Michael, you’d be marvellous.’
‘I’ll explain to anyone who asks why I think I am the right person to be PM,’ he said.
Then on Friday he delivered a substantial 5,000-word manifesto that he’d obviously prepared earlier, to be acclaimed on his new home, Twitter (he has come aboard with the handle @gove2016, so far following no one).
How could he not see that he was wasting his breath, and that to many it was already over before it had begun, and the delivery of any number of orotund Oxford Union paragraphs would never make his leadership happen?
The historians of this bloodbath on the anniversary of the Somme will be kept busy for years to come, but all I could think at the end of last week was this:
Michael Gove is the man who has said many times that he is prepared to put his principles before his friends, that he will sacrifice anything and anyone on the high altar of his ideology.
But he must see, after what he has done, that he is now cast in the public mind not as a heroic man of conviction, but as a sort of Westminster suicide bomber, whose deadly belt of explosives has been detonated not by his own hand, but by his own wife.
OK, I accept that it was more likely detonated by the combined agency of his wife; his former adviser, Dominic Cummings; and also of course George Osborne, with whom the Goves maintain close contact.
They spent last weekend at Dorneywood – the Chancellor’s country retreat – and are, indeed, due to go on family holiday ensemble this summer.
So of course it was inevitable, given this domestic scenario, for the Goves to dump a chap who is very much not numero uno assoluto with the Osbornes either.
Think of the pressure from the wives to stick the knife in, get the job done, before the two families had to break bread over the prosecco and antipasti in Italy.
As it happens, Westminster suicide bomber is not a good look for anybody, which explains why many former Govistas – even one of the newspaper barons who supported him as recently as last week – are leaping on to the TM4PM (Theresa May for PM) bandwagon so fast.
As Michael Heseltine warned: ‘I personally would keep an eye open for Gove. First he abandoned his friend David Cameron now Johnson has felt the blade.’
Ken Clarke has told Gove to fall on his sword and fast. The classical quotation that comes to mind in all this is not so much ‘Et tu, Brute’ but ‘Those whom the Gods want to destroy, first they make mad.’
However much Gove tries to remind us what a nice, caring guy he is in his long leadership pitch, the ‘signalling’ around this personable and civilised candidate is, I’m afraid, that he’s acted like a political psychopath run by his wife (Vine), an acknowledged sociopath (Cummings) and a lame duck Chancellor.
And this Machiavelli still wants us to want him to be Prime Minister.
And yet, having said all that, and knowing them a bit, it’s hard to imagine they mean any harm.
I like them. They are both lively company and huge fun.
Indeed, we sometimes say that we must have supper soon, and perhaps we will, when the bleeding bodies of the fallen are removed from the smoking battlefield of this campaign.
After all, they did what they felt they had to do. We all do what we have to do. We will survive and, as the Queen replied when asked (by a former IRA terrorist, it turns out…) how she was: ‘Well, I’m alive.’
What distresses me about all this is not the Lady Macbething, the betrayal, any pain they might have visited on people I love. It is that the referendum continues to destroy so much in its path.
Gove’s actions are not so much out of the House Of Cards or Game Of Thrones playbook, but straight outta Homeland, even though he insists he only did what he did because it was the right thing to do.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think it was the right thing to do.
I believe in Europe, our place in Europe, and our role in Europe. What happens as we leave the EU, and the critical terms of our eventual demerger, is inexpressibly more important than who runs the Tory Party, or the Labour Party.
It will have an impact and reach for generations to come, in a way that personnel changes at the top – whether it’s Gove or May or Crabb or Leadsom or Eagle or Corbyn – will not.
This leadership campaign is a distraction and displacement activity that takes us all away from the war we have lost as the ambitious power-addicted grimly bash on with their personal battles and vendettas.
It has clouded in cordite the real contours of the post-referendum landscape.
Decades of careful thought, of planning, of diplomacy, of negotiation, of deals, of co-operation, of partnership, of collaboration, of shared goals, by sophisticated British men and women across Europe have been undone – blown up – partly if not largely by the passion of conviction of one Scot goaded on by a Daily Mail columnist I happen to quite like.
At his leadership launch, Michael denied his wife had urged him to run, denied he was giving Dom Cummings a job, but I don’t necessarily take everything the most polite man in Parliament says on trust any more.
I couldn’t put it better than to adapt a furious Sarah Vine tweet issued after Cameron sacked her husband from his post as Education Secretary: a shabby week’s work which the Goves will live to regret.