As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove’s responsibilities now include constitutional affairs, chairing cabinet meetings, implementing government business, and overseeing all Cabinet Office policies. So wide-ranging is his portfolio that the post is now widely seen as that of de-facto deputy prime minister. And on top of all this, Gove has been put in charge of ‘no-deal’ Brexit planning
These duties are not so onerous, however, that Gove has been unable to take time off to claim that he is ‘saddened’ by the EU ‘refusing to negotiate’ with Boris Johnson’s government. An extraordinarily hypocritical posture, given that the main obstacle to such negotiations is the UK’s insistence that the EU drop the Northern Irish backstop, designed to protect the Good Friday Agreement and painfully negotiated over three years by a government in which Gove was a senior minister.
But then, it appears that a large part of the government’s no-deal ‘planning’ consists of political posturing ahead of a general election and a monumental effort to shift the blame for the looming disaster away from those who have lied and committed wholesale breaches of electoral law to bring it about. Foremost among these was Vote Leave, the organisation for which Gove was Co-Convenor.
Gove is no stranger to hypocrisy. In June 2019, during his candidacy for leadership of the Conservative Party, it was revealed that he had used cocaine while working as a journalist in the 1990s. Gove expressed ‘deep regret’ for this, but much worse was the contrast with his draconian public stance on drugs. The very day after hosting a cocaine-fuelled party at his Mayfair flat, reported the Mail on Sunday, Gove had penned a piece for the Times in which he strongly condemned drug use by ‘middle-class professionals’. Later, at the Department of Education, he oversaw the introduction of new rules that can see teachers banned from their profession for life over possession of Class-A drugs. Heaven forbid that such an approach should apply to politicians.
One particularly worrying aspect of Gove’s ministerial role is his responsibility for constitutional affairs, including fair elections and transparency in digital campaigning. Given his leading role in one of the most dishonest and downright illegal campaigns in British political history, this really is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. And, having employed Dominic Cummings – the mastermind of this campaign – as a special adviser when he was Education Secretary, Gove will no doubt be working closely with him in this area.
Gove’s staggering lack of principle was starkly displayed again in the aftermath of the referendum, when he reneged on an agreement to support Johnson’s bid to become Prime Minister (he had been Johnson’s campaign manager) in order to make an ill-judged lunge for the prize himself. Dripping with fake sincerity, Gove declared that he had ‘reluctantly’ concluded that Johnson was not the right man for the job.
Many expected this to be the end of the relationship between these two exceptionally power-hungry individuals, but perhaps there was a deeper understanding between them that friendship and loyalty count for nothing in what is (to them) the ruthless ‘game’ of politics.
At any rate, once the prize was within Johnson’s grasp he appears to have decided to surround himself with his co-conspirators from the referendum campaign, perhaps on the principle that fellow crooks should stick together and share in some of the spoils.