Michael Gove emerges
When Michael Gove appeared in front of the Leveson Inquiry, those of us politically geeky enough to be watching saw the start of something.
Here was an articulate Tory, advocating Tory 'common sense', propounding Tory values like freedom of speech and making it sound like he believed them on a personal level.
He was able to unashamedly highlight the press' vital role in society; refuting the position other politicians have felt the need to take at Leveson, where they focus on media misdemeanours. After his performance it was impossible to avoid mutterings about leadership ambition.
I say it was the 'start' of something, when actually Gove is known to be ambitious enough to have always had an eye on the top job. The stunt he pulled this week suggests his drive has not abated.
The education secretary has a powerful combination of cards in his hand; he is friendly in person, witty and devilishly charming, he does not get angry when journalists question him – he used to be one after all.
I remember one briefing in which he was extolling the virtues of the free schools. One hack had a Buddhist group on his patch applying to open one in which as well as academic subjects children would learn to meditate.
The leftish fellow asked a string of questions insinuating this was a waste of money – if Gove thought it was acceptable, if he meditated etc. Another minister may have got ratty, the education secretary dealt with it in good humour.
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But Gove clearly uses that bonhomie to shroud an astute and calculating political brain. The way this week's announcement was executed was impressive.
It was perfectly timed. Other potential leaders in the cabinet, Jeremy Hunt and George Osborne, are struggling. Even the PM just can't seem to extricate himself from distractions, like tax avoidance, to focus on his party's values.
It was also well aimed. The O-Level plan was leaked to the Daily Mail by someone close to Gove, without the knowledge of Nick Clegg, Lib Dem education minister Sarah Teather and even, it seems, Downing Street.
Gove apparently knew that to inform these people would have taken away from the impact he wanted to have and the image he wanted to create – that of the only Tory in the cabinet who still wants to do Tory things and say to hell with the Lib Dems.
He also has something else which the PM appears to be shedding fast; friends in the media. After his performance at Leveson it's no wonder he's favoured by the Murdoch press. The Mail obviously praised him today as well and the Daily Telegraph printed a shining leader; 'Gove's courage should be a lesson to others'.
Some commentators out there have pointed out that the O-Level plan will never get through, but they miss the point. If it had been accepted by all immediately, Gove would not have been able to show what a champion he is for the Conservatives who feel forgotten.