Friday 19 July 2019

Gove's cocaine revelation is just a sideshow

Michael Gove.
Michael Gove.

Darragh Clifford - Straight Talking

The contest to see who will replace Theresa May as leader of the Conservative Party began in earnest this week, and in keeping with the surreal tone of British politics these days, the race has started with a bang.

Boris Johnson may be the bookies' favourite to take over at No 10, but it is environment secretary Michael Gove who made all the headlines over the weekend, after he admitted to taking cocaine on several occasions more than 20 years ago when he worked as a journalist.

Naturally, this bombshell of a revelation has resulted in widespread calls for him to step down from the contest. Gove has been labelled a hypocrite by many, after a 20-year-old column resurfaced over the weekend where he urged tougher action against cocaine use shortly before he hosted a party at his London home where guests where apparently openly taking the drug.

This is where things start to get a little complicated, and it is possible to feel a considerable amount of sympathy for Gove - words I never imagined I would write.

When David Cameron was running for the leadership of the Tories, he maintained the line that politicians are entitled to a private life before entering politics.

Now we have members of the British press slating a former colleague for preaching one thing but practising something entirely different. This is a delicious irony, the British press lecturing a public figure on hypocrisy. Has Fleet Street in England suddenly been populated by angels with no chequered pasts of their own? I think not.

Surely Cameron is right (something else I never thought I would write) when he said politicians are entitled to a private past. If you were to delve into the past behaviour of our esteemed 158 deputies in Leinster House, chances are you would dig up some Class A dirt on many of them. But so what? Does it really matter that an elected representative did something stupid or illegal in a past life if they have learnt the errors of their ways and have moved on?

Michael Gove should not be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but cocaine use from two decades ago is not the reason why. It is not as if he admitted to doing a line of cocaine before going into a cabinet meeting at Downing Street - although given the chaos of Theresa May's government it may have explained a lot.

Gove has proven himself to be a politician of questionable standards, and has attracted controversy for much of his political life. He has been embroiled in an expenses scandal, has repeatedly dodged Freedom of Information requests regarding the use of private email accounts for official use, he made an inappropriate joke about Harvey Weinstein, he sanctioned three 'creationist' schools as education secretary and in 2016 he famously said that Britain has had quite enough of 'experts' who were warning about the dangers of Brexit.

His 'experts' jibe really took the biscuit - it was the modern day equivalent of the famous Monty Python sketch where a grumpy John Cleese asks what the bloody hell have the Romans ever done for us?

Gove now finds himself in a situation where questions are being asked about his ability to travel to the United States, given his cocaine revelations. Critics are asking if he failed to declare that he had used illegal drugs in the past when applying for a travel visa for the United States.

This is the flea-ridden state British politics finds itself in. A front-runner for Prime Minister having to assure the British public that he won't be put back on a plane the next time he tries to enter the United States. This is all just an unnecessary sideshow. Instead of being quizzed about how he will steer the UK through the Brexit quagmire, he is apologising for something that happened long before he entered political life.

And all the while, Boris Johnson is quietly rubbing his hands with glee, which is a truly terrifying prospect for Ireland. For obvious reasons, this Tory leadership contest will have massive implications for us, and will be compulsive viewing over the next few months. Hold onto your hats, it is going to be a bumpy ride.

Enniscorthy Guardian