Boris Johnson and Michael Gove managed to win it all and lose it all in an exact week – the ‘all’ in question being their personal standing.
The partnership ended in an almost mythical act of betrayal by one of the other, by Gove of Johnson, deciding, close to the actual eleventh hour, to ditch the Johnson campaign – of which he was Chair – and to stand for the Conservative leadership himself.
Gove did not inform Johnson of his decision but did inform Johnson’s campaign manager, Lynton Crosby – five minutes before announcing that he was running himself.
Crosby will of course have informed Johnson but the lack of courage and common courtesy in Gove’s failure to face Johnson directly would indicate his shamefacedness at his own action; and his moral measure, which has deservedly wizened and shrunk.
The omnipresent weasel in politics has led Gove’s campaign Chair, Lord [Francis] Maude, to try to contradict the fact that Gove did not inform Johnson by saying to Adam Boulton of Sky News: ‘No. I understand that Johnson was informed.’ Johnson will indeed have been informed – by Crosby; and Maude did not, of course, say that he understood that Gove had informed Johnson.
Of the pair of Brexit carpetbaggers, the universal view of each at the start of their takeover of the Leave campaign was that:
- Johnson was an opportunist and a likeable entertainer, simultaneously scholarly and populist;
- Gove was a bit of a nerd, ‘clever’, intellectual and a man of principle.
It was obvious to anyone with any acuity that neither was a natural team player.
Tonight Boris Johnson’s character remains intact but rather graced by the manner in which he dealt with his unforeseeable political assassination. Transparently opportunist, he remained an entertainer to the last.
He held [late] the expected press conference to launch his campaign.
He delivered the speech he had planned to validate his candidacy for the leadership [which later served as a memorandum on his achievements].
His audience were preparing to applaud his declaration as he began on his closing sentence.
‘To those of you have waited faithfully for the punch line to this speech, after consultations with colleagues and in the light of the current circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that the next leader of the Conservative Party … cannot be me.’
And that was it. Even his core supporting MPs had no idea this was coming. Some were more than close to tears.
As an exit, it will be unforgettable in style, succinctness, impact, wit – and grace.
That is no bad footnote in time.
As for Gove, there is nothing whatsoever to commend him to history, other than as the prompt for the theatrical coup of Johnson’s last stand.
As the joker in the pack, Johnson deceived in the Brexit campaign as any busker deceives – with style over substance, known never to be particularly careful with facts.
As the partner in exit alleged to be bright, a devil for detail and principled, Gove knowingly deceived – lied – throughout the campaign under the cover of his intellectual reputation and assumed principles.
Of the two, this is the more culpable deceit.
The man held most worthy of trust is the greater betrayer in stooping to deceive.
Johnson was never, during the Brexit campaign or in the approaches to the leadership contest in which he will not now take part, unpleasant or unkind about any individual.
Gove, on the other hand, could hardly wait this morning to validate his sudden decision to run under his own colours by dissing Johnson as lacking the ability to form and lead the sort of team the country needs to see it through Brexit – painting him as a sort of Billy no mates.
The reality appears to be more that Johnson cavilled at delivering mates rates for the cabinet positions supporters support in order to acquire.
In terms of competence to lead the country into Brexit – it should not be forgotten that Gove, no more than Johnson, had prepared no plan whatsoever to take the UK forward in the aftermath of a win for the Brexit camp.
No one should have expected Johnson to have done the hard yards of preparation for so serious a prospective event – but it has been a genuine shock to discover that Gove had not bothered to plan ahead either.
And if Gove backed Johnson’s leadership ambitions until they closed with reality – what does that say of the soundness of his perspicacity and judgment?
So tonight, Johnson is what he has always been, an entertaining busker who loves an audience to charm; and Gove is stripped of the mask of integrity and principle, capable of treachery and seen to have been conniving with his scheming wife for personal advantage.
As for Britain? We’re still on the way out of the European Union, thanks to this pair of chancers.