sábado, 18 de junho de 2016
Michael Gove, the brains behind Brexit
Michael Gove, the brains behind Brexit
The justice secretary’s transformation from toxic to totem.
By TOM MCTAGUE and ALEX SPENCE 6/15/16, 5:30 AM CET
Michael Gove — "the Brexit guy"
LONDON — The prospect of Brexit is doing strange things to Britain.
Michael Gove, the U.K.’s formidable but abrasive justice secretary, is not known as a politician with the common touch. On a recent trip to watch Manchester United with his young son, not long after declaring that he would campaign against the government for Britain to leave the EU, he was expecting to receive abuse from football fans.
Instead, he told friends, Mancunians in the ground recognized him as “the Brexit guy” and began cheering.
Gove, the brains behind Britain’s Brexit surge, has become the unlikely star of the campaign — eclipsing Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
If Britain votes Out on June 23, David Cameron will have reason to blame Gove more than anyone else.
In a special BBC debate on Wednesday it is Gove, not Johnson, who will take to the stage for the Leave campaign. Cameron will respond for Remain in a similar BBC program four days later.
The broadcast on Britain’s most-watched TV channel will be the biggest platform the Leave camp has had so far to make its pitch for Britain to leave the EU. Gove held his own in a town hall on Sky News earlier in the month, sidestepping tough questions about the economy and allegations that he was an “Oxbridge Trump.” Gove attracted 45 percent more viewers than the prime minister had the previous night.
His grilling in front of a studio audience on BBC One on Wednesday night will reach several times the number of viewers of the Sky program.
That Gove is leading the insurgent Leave campaign, which may be only days away from pulling off one of the most astonishing political victories in British history, is remarkable for a politician who just two years ago was considered so unappealing to voters he was demoted on the advice of Downing Street campaign guru Lynton Crosby.
Like so much in British politics, the Brexit campaign has turned Gove’s career on its head.
With friends like these…
They may be on opposite sides of a fractious political campaign, but Gove wouldn’t be in this position without the prime minister.
It was over lunch with Cameron, then a young MP, that Gove’s final decision to abandon Fleet Street for politics was taken, according to a biography of Cameron by Francis Elliott and James Hanning. Cameron had for several years been trying to persuade his friend to join parliament.
“He’s conservative because he thinks it is the way to change things for the better” — Rosemary Righter
Cameron had even pleaded publicly for Gove to stand as an MP in an article in the Guardian after being infuriated by a piece his friend had written for the Spectator magazine.
As a modernizing Tory columnist, Gove had attacked the 2001 intake of Conservative MPs — which included Cameron — as “complacent,” “in retreat from the modern world,” and deluded by “the easy charm of home counties cocktail parties.”
Gove wanted the Tories to stop obsessing about “hunting, Gibraltar and spin” and start talking about the issues voters really cared about. In that, Cameron saw an ally.
Fourteen years later, their friendship has been cast aside and Gove is leading the rebellious wing of the party that threatens to end Cameron’s career as prime minister.
Cameron should have seen it coming. According to the memoirs of the former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws, Cameron described Gove during the previous coalition government as “basically a bit of a Maoist — he believes that the world makes progress through a process of creative destruction.”
Rosemary Righter, chief leader writer at the Times when Gove was hired in 1996, said her former colleague has always been Euroskeptic.
More of a 19th-century liberal radical than a classic Tory, Gove “is not a small-c conservative who wants things to stay as they are. He’s conservative because he thinks it is the way to change things for the better. That makes him very socially liberal.”
On Europe, he has never wavered, she said.
While Boris Johnson’s Euroskepticism waxed and waned and Cameron’s all but melted away, Gove remained determinedly anti-Brussels.
It’s a deeply-held conviction that goes back to the collapse of his father’s fishing business in the 1970s, which the family blamed directly on the EU.
“I saw the pride my father and grandfather had in their business and obviously it was very difficult to cope with seeing everything they had built disappear,” he told the BBC this weekend. “I was just a schoolboy at the time, I didn’t know what I was going to be doing in the future, but it stayed with me.”
In the Sky News appearance, Gove condemned the EU as a “job-destroying machine” run by “sneering elites.”
Beliefs beats loyalty
The ferocity of Gove’s campaigning has shocked many in Downing Street who believed he would set aside his feelings about Europe and show more loyalty to his old friend. Accusing the prime minister and Chancellor George Osborne — his two closest friends in politics — as untrustworthy sparked particular anger in Number 10.
Gove’s connection to Cameron is not only political. Gove was godfather to Cameron’s late son Ivan; their wives are close friends and their children play together.
Cameron claimed in public that he was “disappointed but not surprised” by the decision. But those close to the prime minister say he was badly hurt.
“He always expected Boris to do whatever would get the most attention,” one former Downing Street aide said. “But he had been led to believe Michael would not campaign for Out. I don’t know if he ever said it directly or if it was wishful thinking on Cameron’s part, but Michael certainly did not disabuse him of the notion. It came as a surprise.”
Gove himself has admitted agonizing over the decision because of his loyalty to Cameron.
In February, when Gove announced his decision, Rupert Murdoch tweeted that “friends always knew his principles would overcome his personal friendships.”
It is more likely his loyalty to his father trumped his loyalty to the prime minister, although even his friends say he is “ferociously ideological.”
Born to a single student mother in Edinburgh in 1967, Gove was adopted when he was four months old and raised in Aberdeen. He has never tried to find his birth mother because of his devotion to his adoptive parents. “I am more than just grateful” to them, he told the New Statesman in 2010. “My parents were wonderful and I know, in the way that you can’t always put into words, that to seek to find out who my birth mother is would upset my parents.”
After a scholarship at a private school and Oxford University, Gove was turned down by the Conservative research department, which said he was neither political nor Conservative enough to work there. Instead, he pursued a career in journalism, starting at the local newspaper, the Press and Journal, in Aberdeen.
Other jobs followed at Scottish Television and the BBC. As a producer on the influential Today program on BBC Radio 4, Gove earned a reputation as “practically the brightest person they’d ever had,” Righter said. He joined the Times in 1996, where he spent nearly a decade on staff, as leader writer, comment editor and news editor.
Gove was well-liked, according to several former colleagues. “He was so reasonable, so exceedingly courteous,” Righter said. “You never had any sense that there was any sort of double-dealing, intellectual or otherwise. I don’t think I’ve ever met a straighter, more decent person in journalism.”
Philip Webster, the former political editor of the Times who worked with Gove when he was news editor, said he was “clearly going to go higher” after the referendum and was “on the way up come what may.”
Like Johnson, Gove has retained strong ties in the conservative media which have bolstered his political rise.
“I’d be surprised if Gove ever saw himself as a future prime minister” — Philip Webster
He kept a column in the Times for several years after entering the Commons — the newspaper paid him £60,000 a year — and remained close to several of his former bosses, including Murdoch. In the six years since the Tories returned to government, elevating Gove to the cabinet, Gove has dined with Murdoch at least ten times, according to the meeting disclosures that all ministers are required to file periodically. Gove and his wife were among the guests at the media mogul’s wedding to Jerry Hall in London this year.
In recent years, Gove has also become close to another powerful newspaper empire — that of Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail. In the space of several months in 2014, the Goves stayed with Rothermere and his family at least three times, according to Gove’s public disclosures. That included a weekend at Rothermere’s home in France, at a value of £2,134.
Gove has the backing of another important constituency: Conservative MPs. According to the website Conservative Home, 30 percent of Tories in parliament want the justice secretary to be the next party leader, ahead of Johnson on 22 percent and home secretary Theresa May on 16 percent.
Gove insists he’s not interested in taking over from Cameron, telling Sky News this month to “count me out” of any leadership contest. Webster, his former colleague at the Times, said: “I’d be surprised if Gove ever saw himself as a future prime minister, but he’s one of those classics who sees himself as the maker of a prime minister.”
In the event of a vote to leave, some believe Gove would serve as a powerful deputy to a prime minister Johnson, perhaps leading a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with Europe.
Others have speculated that Gove could become deputy prime minister even if Britain votes to remain, as Cameron tries to bring the feuding party factions back together. Or Gove could lose his position in cabinet if Cameron decides to clear out the Brexit rebels.
Gove insists it would be worth it. “I don’t mind if my cabinet career is over,” he told BBC Radio Scotland this week. “I think the most important thing is to make a principled case for Britain leaving the EU.”