'Gosh!' Modest Michael Gove didn't want to be the prime minister - but since Britain insists...
Published 02/07/2016 | 02:30
According to his wife, the journalist Sarah Vine, Michael Gove slept through the news that Britain had voted to leave the EU. He'd gone to bed at 10.30 the night before, and slept through till dawn, when he was woken by the ringing of his mobile. It was a colleague calling to tell him the result. Mr Gove's response to this astonishing triumph, apparently, was: "Gosh. I suppose I'd better get up."
Yesterday, exactly a week later, the Justice Secretary launched his Tory leadership campaign by giving a speech near parliament. It was lengthy and dense, but can be boiled down as follows. "Gosh. I suppose I'd better be prime minister." He didn't use those exact words, but he might as well have done.
He "never thought" he'd "ever be in this position", he insisted. He'd "never wanted it", he claimed. Indeed, he added humbly, "I did almost everything I could not to be a candidate for the leadership".
Bless him. Such modesty. Such self-effacement. He'd tried so hard not to advance his career. He'd fought courageously to keep himself out of the running.
He'd done everything in his power not to stab an ally in the back and usurp him in the race to become the most important person in Britain. He'd tried not to betray Boris Johnson, he really had. Just like he'd tried not to betray David Cameron.
But in the end, I suppose his country's need for him simply proved too great. Well, it would have been churlish to ignore the nation's pleas. Mr Gove wouldn't want to let anyone down. He is, after all, an honourable man.
Admittedly, he'd chosen to launch his leadership bid at 11am, which happened to be the same time that the commemoration service was being held to mark 100 years since the Battle of the Somme. Still, no doubt the country's needs must come first.
How had he found the strength to overcome his natural diffidence?
By focusing on his "burning desire to transform our country", he revealed. That was what motivated him. "I am standing for the leadership not as a result of calculation," he said. "Certainly not as a result of calculation."
For some reason, a couple of people in the audience laughed.
The speech lasted 33 minutes.
A journalist noted that it was remarkably long, detailed and policy-heavy for a man who definitely wasn't thinking of standing until 24 hours earlier.
Mr Gove smiled bashfully. "I'm notorious amongst my friends for having lots of ideas," he explained.
With Theresa May established as the firm favourite to win the leadership contest, rival candidates have their work cut out to persuade their fellow MPs to back them instead. Still, Mr Gove sounded optimistic.
"In just 24 hours," he reported, he'd gained support from "so many wonderful colleagues". I glanced about the room, to see how many Tory MPs were present. I counted, in total, five.
Gosh. I suppose he'd better get a move on. (© Daily Telegraph London)