Michael Gove last night admitted taking cocaine on ‘several social occasions’.
The Tory leadership candidate said he used the banned substance when he was younger and deeply regrets it.
He told the Daily Mail: ‘I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago. At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and I think, I wish I hadn’t done that.’
Mr Gove, 51, insisted his past mistakes should not be held against him as he battles to replace Theresa May as prime minister
‘It was 20 years ago and yes, it was a mistake,’ he said. ‘But I don’t believe that past mistakes disqualify you.’
He made his admission ahead of publication of a book about him by political journalist Owen Bennett – extracts of which are exclusively published in today’s Mail.
The book – Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry – says the Environment Secretary owned up to having used cocaine when he was being ‘put through his paces’ by advisers in the 2016 Tory leadership contest.
The startling admission came when he and the aides were trying to anticipate what questions he would face from the media.
An inside source said Mr Gove said ‘Yes, cocaine’ when asked if he had ever taken drugs.
Michael Gove told the Daily Mail: ‘I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago. At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and I think, I wish I hadn’t done that’
‘Gove was instructed not to give that answer in public, and told to fall back on the words David Cameron had used when he was running for leader, namely that politicians are entitled to a private life before entering politics,’ the book says.
In the event Mr Gove was never asked the question. Despite forcing Boris Johnson to pull out of the contest, Mr Gove withdrew after being beaten by Mrs May in the second round.
The drugs revelation comes on the eve of the first round in the Tory leadership ballot of MPs due to take place on Thursday. Many Tories forecast they will whittle the candidates down to a Gove versus Johnson rematch. The winner is picked by Conservative grassroots members. Mr Bennett’s book, which is likely to electrify the Tory leadership race, also reveals:
- How Mr Gove believes he did a ‘public service’ by dramatically ‘knifing’ Mr Johnson during the 2016 contest;
- That he was warned he was duty-bound to back Brexit to avoid being forever seen as a ‘stooge’ of his friend Mr Cameron, who saw him merely as a ‘court jester’;
- That Mr Cameron still considers Mr Gove ‘dead to me’ because of his perceived betrayal over Brexit;
- How Mr Gove adored ‘winding up’ Mrs May when she was home secretary because of clashes between them.
Last night Mr Gove told the Mail he had taken drugs about 20 years ago when he worked as a journalist and before he was married. He became an MP in 2005 and entered government as education secretary in 2010.
‘The book is correct,’ he said. ‘I did take drugs. It is something I deeply regret. Drugs damage lives. They are dangerous and it was a mistake.’
An inside source said Mr Gove said ‘Yes, cocaine’ when asked if he had ever taken drugs
He added: ‘Obviously it will be for my colleagues in Parliament and members of the Conservative Party to decide now if I should be leader. I think all politicians have lives before politics.
‘Certainly when I was working as a journalist I didn’t imagine I would go into politics or public service. I didn’t act with an eye to that.’
Mr Johnson has already disclosed he has used cocaine. He admitted it in the run-up to the London mayoral election in 2008.
Mr Cameron was punished at Eton for using cannabis.
Another Tory leadership candidate, Rory Stewart, has admitted smoking opium. The International Development Secretary, apologised last week for taking the class A drug while at a wedding in Iran 15 years ago.
In a separate interview with the Conservative Home website yesterday, Mr Gove refused to say he would give Mr Johnson a Cabinet job if he becomes prime minister.
He also dismissed claims that he could not become Tory leader because of the way he ‘knifed’ the former foreign secretary.
On Monday up to 12 Tory MPs are expected to announce their candidacies for the leadership contest. And yesterday Westminster was awash with rumours that Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt is poised to join the race.
After MPs narrow the field to two candidates, the party’s 100,000 plus members will then vote and a winner is expected to be announced before the end of July.
Yesterday Mrs May formally stepped down as party leader, firing the starting gun on the race to succeed her.
She will stay on as Prime Minister until the new leader is chosen next month.
Rivals to the death: Bombshell biography of Michael Gove reveals the truth about his bitter battles with PM leadership contender Boris Johnson
By Owen Bennett for the Daily Mail
Boris Johnson had been worried Michael Gove might have his eyes on beating him to the job of Prime Minister in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum in June 2016 — and not without reason.
‘I’m pretty certain I’m going to back you, but I just need to think about this over the next 24 hours,’ said Gove.
On Saturday, June 25, two days after the referendum, Gove told Johnson he would back him; he was definitely not standing himself. But over the course of the next few days he changed his mind.
All the qualities Johnson seemed to have adopted, or at least done a good impression of understanding the importance of, during the referendum campaign had completely disappeared.Message discipline, organisation, taking advice, working to deadlines . . .
Gove thought back to his experiences working closely with a prime minister. He remembered seeing the security services rushing in, clearing the room, and telling David Cameron he had to make an instant decision on whether to give the go-ahead to have someone killed.
Boris Johnson had been worried Michael Gove might have his eyes on beating him to the job of Prime Minister in the weeks leading up to the EU referendum in June 2016
Could Johnson handle that level of pressure and responsibility? Gove came to the conclusion Johnson should not be Prime Minister. He decided he would stand against him. In the run-up to the launch of his campaign, Gove was put through his paces by his team as they tried to anticipate what questions he would face from the media. During this session Gove made a startling admission.
According to someone with intimate knowledge of the event, Gove was asked if he had ever taken drugs. ‘Yes, cocaine,’ he replied.
He was firmly instructed not to give that answer in public, and told instead to fall back on the words Cameron had used when he was running for leader, namely that politicians are entitled to a private life before entering politics.
There had long been rumours in Westminster that Gove had taken the drug while working at The Times. In his book Dirty Politics, Dirty Money, Lord Ashcroft made a claim that Tom Baldwin, one of Gove’s Times colleagues, was a regular user of cocaine. Baldwin refused to respond to the claim he had taken drugs with Gove.
The fact Gove — who at the time was Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor — was seemingly prepared to go public with this information would have been the first time a candidate for the highest office in the land had admitted taking a Class A drug.
On Saturday, June 25, two days after the referendum, Gove told Johnson he would back him (pictured: A young Michael Gove, left, and Boris Johnson, right)
After all, Gove was a member of Cameron’s campaign team for the leadership in 2005 when the future PM was asked at a fringe meeting at the party conference, whether he had taken drugs at university.
‘I had a normal university experience,’ Cameron replied, adding: ‘There were things that I did then that I don’t think that I should talk about now I’m a politician.’
During a BBC TV Question Time show, an audience member pressed Cameron: ‘Do you believe in today’s Britain that drug-taking at university is all part of an ordinary university experience?’ Cameron replied that politicians deserve a private life before entering politics, and won a round of applause.
(Cameron went on to achieve a clear victory over David Davis.)
Hours after Gove announced he was standing in 2016, Johnson withdrew from the contest, saying Gove’s challenge made it impossible for him to win.
At the first hustings event Gove braced himself for a rough ride. Johnson supporters made no secret of their feelings about the person who had brought down the man they believed should be king.
MP Jake Berry tweeted: ‘There is a very deep pit reserved in Hell for such as he. #Gove.’
He survived the first ballot, but withdrew after being soundly beaten by Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May in the next round.
Pictured: Michael Gove and Boris Johnson speak at a Leave event in October 2016
In a two-week period, Gove had helped bring about the resignation of David Cameron (by backing Leave), thwarted Johnson’s ambitions to be Prime Minister and burned the reputation he had as someone to be trusted.
Leadsom subsequently quit the race and May became PM. She summoned Gove to No 10 and told him he would not be in her Cabinet. ‘One of the things that’s very important is loyalty,’ she said, ‘and after the past few weeks I’ve been speaking to people in the party . . . I wouldn’t say that you could never come back, but you need to take a period on the backbenches in order to demonstrate loyalty.’
Gove later admitted his leadership bid was a mistake. And May had been right to fire him. ‘If I’d been in her shoes I would have sacked me, too,’ he said ruefully.
Yet earlier this year Gove, by now Environment Secretary, had decided to start testing the water to see if he should be preparing a bid to take over as leader when May finally relinquished office.
Treasury Minister Mel Stride organised dinners with MPs to find out what they would be looking for from the next party leader — in terms of style and substance.
Stride created a WhatsApp group called Deep Blue, a name chosen to reflect the moderate Right agenda. MPs were invited to dinners with Stride, including some at his townhouse in Chelsea.
As anger over May’s negotiations with Labour intensified throughout April, the dinners became a more overt forum for promoting Gove, and the man himself began attending. Stride’s wife would then serve a home-cooked meal which created a relaxed atmosphere. The conversation would eventually switch to the state of the party, before, inevitably turning to the race to succeed May.
Gove would then set out his pitch, playing up his experience running three Government departments, claiming it was evidence he could bring fresh ideas.
One MP says that at the dinner they attended — three days before May announced she was resigning — Gove put forwarded two specific ideas: extra money for primary schools, and the creation of a new branch of the police force to deal purely with cyber crime.
‘Gove said the normal police are overwhelmed by cyber crime, so he wanted to create a version of the British Transport Police but just for internet-based crime.’
Not everyone at the dinner was a Gove supporter. One asked bluntly: ‘How can we trust you after you stabbed Boris in the back?’
‘I don’t see it as stabbing people in the back, I was trying to do the public a service,’ replied Gove. Another questioner had an equally forthright question: ‘Aren’t you a bit toxic with the public? Don’t people see you as a speccy git?’
Gove laughed, and acknowledged that while he was ‘not the most photogenic’, he had been the face of the Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum which won 17.4 million votes. It wasn’t just dinners where Gove would hold court. At the beginning of May 2018, Stride organised a question-and-answer session with Gove at The Surprise pub in Chelsea.
Some 46 MPs turned up. Gove talked up his years of government experience and record for competency. The contrast with Dominic Raab, who had served in the Cabinet for just four months, and Johnson, who made numerous gaffes as Foreign Secretary, was clear.
The rivalry between the two men most likely to end up fighting for the Tory crown stretches right back to their university days.
From the moment Gove arrived at Oxford University, he had set his sights on becoming President of the Oxford Union. In a 1987 collection of essays entitled ‘The Oxford Myth’, one former president advised others how to ascend to the post. A candidate needs ‘a disciplined and deluded collection of stooges’ who will persuade people in their respective colleges to back you, the essayist noted. Collecting and motivating these ‘stooges’ is a skill in itself.
The presidential candidate must convince the stooge that there is something in it for them; that by so nakedly attaching themselves to his or her particular bandwagon the fruits of success will somehow trickle down.
Yet, as the author of the essay pointedly revealed: ‘The tragedy of the stooge is that even if he thinks this through, he wants so much to believe that his relationship with the candidate is special that he shuts out the truth. The terrible art of the candidate is to coddle the self-deception of the stooge.’
In his first year at Oxford, Gove willingly became a ‘stooge’. Indeed, to the student who wrote those very words: Boris Johnson.
Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in New York on June 19, 1964 — three years before Gove entered the world in Scotland.
A very unlikely rapper
The 30th birthday party of Carrie Symonds — the Conservative communications director, and now partner of Boris Johnson — in North London in March 2018 attracted a host of the party’s leading figures, including Gove, Johnson and Sajid Javid.
Gove had a special present prepared, not for the birthday girl, but for Johnson, a skill he usually reserved for dinner parties — rapping. It was not Gove’s first attempt at rapping in public — in 2014 he attempted to impress some schoolchildren by reciting part of Wham Rap!.
This time, after seeing a performance of the musical Hamilton during a trip to New York in 2016, he decided recreate the opening number for the party guests.
A backing track was put on, and Gove, wearing a purple jumper and corduroy trousers, began rapping, but with lyrics he had composed himself. Instead of singing about American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, he rapped about Boris Johnson:
A golden wonder, brought us out of the EU blunder . . . By fighting like thunder, by blowing enemies asunder. Which is why Vote Leave made *him* top gunner.
And then a referendum came, the BBC and Guardian thought they had inflicted pain . . .
And Craig Oliver knew you better than to play the game.
The world’s gonna know your name . . . what’s your name . . . My name is Alexander B. Johnson
While most found it hilarious, Johnson looked on perplexed.
By the time Gove arrived at Oxford, Johnson was one of the big figures on campus. His shock of blond hair, his larger-than-life persona, meant he was someone everybody knew.
Johnson enrolled in 1983 to read Classics at Balliol College and had his sights set on the Union presidency in much the same way as Gove would in future years. He failed in his first attempt to get elected in 1984/85, but had another crack at it a year later.
This time, Johnson hatched a plan to reach out to more of the electorate than his Old Etonian demeanour had previously won over. He decided to mask his natural leanings by adopting the Social Democratic Party, the new political movement launched in 1981.
With the Tory wolf now dressed in SDP clothing, Johnson needed a flock of stooges to spread his many messages across campus.
Gove was a willing member of the ‘Boris cult’, he later remembered, providing a vivid description of his first encounter with the man: ‘It was in the Union bar. He was a striking figure with sheepdog hair and penny loafers, standing in a distinctive pose with his hands in his trouser pockets and his head bent forward.
‘He seemed like a kindly, Oxford character, but he was really like a great basking shark waiting for freshers to swim towards him.’
Gove was happy to be in the shark’s gang, and although he was taken with Johnson’s debating skills, the canny fresher knew that helping a Balliol man secure the presidency was a useful political investment:
‘The real reason why I became a stooge in the Boris machine was that Oxford politics was essentially a matter of the college that you found yourself in. I was in Lady Margaret Hall, which was a small province of Balliol, aping the manners of our betters. Slates need balance, and an LMH debater fitted into the balance.’
Not for the last time, a Johnson-fronted campaign with Gove acting as willing stooge proved popular with the voters, and the future London Mayor was elected to serve as Union president in the final term of the 1985/86 year.
Gove’s enthusiastic support of Johnson, and his own performances in union debates, helped his notoriety grow on campus. He was anointed ‘Pushy Fresher of the Year’ by the Oxford student paper Cherwell, but it wasn’t all bad press, as the same publication also dubbed him ‘the best debater in the Union’.
His speeches at the union were full of Gove’s trademark self-deprecation and wit, and it was there that he began to develop and toy with the notion that, far from being an adopted son of an Aberdeen fisherman, he was actually part of the Scottish aristocracy.
Gove, along with his school friend Duncan Gray, would don a kilt when taking part in debates, and a regular refrain would be for Gove to apologise for his dishevelled appearance, saying that his Filipino manservant Pepe was on holiday so he had had to dress himself.
Despite the joke, fellow student Philip Hensher does not believe Gove was trying to mask his true background. ‘That was common at the time: people got rid of their accent but he never did,’ says Hensher. ‘Michael often talked about his parents.’
As we’ll see on Monday, there was much more to his parents’ story than he ever realised.
Prank calls, a brush with the police…and the mischief that makes him a star: Biography reveals what really lies behind Michael Gove’s bookish exterior
By Owen Bennett for the Daily Mail
As he was sounding out fellow MPs earlier this year for a second tilt at the leadership, Michael Gove was asked what was the worst thing he had ever done — a nod to the question posed to Theresa May in the 2017 General Election campaign. May said her greatest indiscretion was running through fields of wheat as a child. Gove was a lot more cagey.
‘I can’t tell you too much because somebody is writing a book about me . . . but I did used to make prank calls’.
In truth, behind that bookish exterior, the real Michael Gove is a good deal more mischievous than many imagine. At Oxford, he had not been part of the notorious Bullingdon Club, but was invited to break bread at the Arnold and Brackenbury Society, a Balliol dining club. As a contemporary remembers: ‘It was basically an excuse to get drunk over dinner.’
Pictured: Michael Gove in A Feast at Midnight – a 1995 British comedy family film directed by Justin Hardy
One particular lark involved making those prank phone calls — usually when drunk. One recipient of a Gove call was U.S. politician Tom Kean. The then Governor of New Jersey was hotly tipped to be the running mate of George Bush in the 1988 presidential election.
During a visit to London, the student Gove — egged on by his friends and buoyed by a large amount of alcohol — decided an early-morning phone call was required to improve Anglo-American relations.
Gove rang the hotel where Governor Kean was staying and, in his poshest English accent, demanded to be put through to the Republican’s suite. The receptionist duly obliged, and Governor Kean was on the other end of the line within seconds.
Carted away for a drunken jape
Leaving university, when Gove became a journalist, did little to curtail his desire to indulge his student side. One night, following a few too many drinks in Aberdeen, he started messing about with a traffic cone.
Gove decided a cone was located in the wrong place and the drastic action of throwing it off a viaduct onto a road below was taken — while the whole incident witnessed by police. ‘A police van turned up and the last thing I saw was Michael being taken into the back,’ remembers a friend.
Asked in 2010 about the incident, Gove claimed to have a ‘hazy recollection’ of the night in question.
As Gove’s friends tried to stifle their laughter in the background, Gove explained to the Governor what a fan he was of the politician and how he would be supporting him in the upcoming election. Indeed, perhaps Kean should run for the White House himself.
Despite the support of this unknown but incredibly well-spoken Englishman, Governor Kean did not put himself forward for the Republican presidential nomination. In the event, he didn’t even get on the ticket, as Dan Quayle was chosen to be the vice-presidential nominee.
Gove had proved he could do posh, so for another prank call he decided to mix it up a little. Author Colin Dexter — creator of Inspector Morse — received a phone call one Saturday afternoon from someone who sounded like a stereotypical East End gangster.
‘Oi, Dexter, I’m such a fan of your f***ing Inspector Morse, it’s f***ing brilliant,’ said the rather gruff Cockney, before putting the phone down. The well-educated Oxford student — and his rather drunk friends — found it hilarious.
That taste for practical jokes would stay with him long after his student days.
In 1991, Gove was reunited with a friend from university, John Nicolson, when they both worked in London on the BBC political programme On The Record.
Pictured: Environment Secretary Michael Gove talks to the media in Westminster on December 12, 2018 in London
The pair would lunch together at the Halcyon Hotel in Holland Park. One afternoon, the duo turned up to the hotel’s restaurant to be told lunch was not being served as pop group Duran Duran were holding a press conference in the room. Michael and John looked at each other, and Gove whispered: ‘That sounds like more fun than lunch, shall we stay?’
After telling the man on the door that they were from the BBC and were of course there to interview the pop stars, Gove and Nicolson were ushered into the press conference. They stood out somewhat, especially as Gove was ‘all tweeded up with his little round glasses’, as Nicolson recalls.
As Duran Duran dealt with the usual questions regarding their latest album, Gove decided it was time to bring a hard political edge to proceedings. Flinging his hand up in a theatrical fashion, he addressed singer Simon Le Bon.
‘Simon, can I just engage you about the meaning of some of your lyrics. “Hungry Like the Wolf” — who can fail to be impressed by that insightful commentary on Thatcherite economics? What inspired you for that devastating motif? Can you talk me through it?’
Michael Gove leaves his West London home, May 31, 2019
Le Bon looked perplexed. The words ‘Thatcherite economics’ or even ‘motif’ were clearly not ones he expected to be confronted with at the press conference. But Gove went on, quizzing Le Bon over more of his lyrics.
Nicolson was simultaneously trying to hide his amusement and also disguise his own surprise at Gove’s apparent knowledge of Duran Duran lyrics.
‘You could see Simon Le Bon thinking, “Really? Have I really written insightful, radical lyrics? That’s not how I see myself at all . . .”’ remembers Nicolson.
After a few minutes of being grilled on the socio-economic contents of his lyrics, Le Bon realised the line of questioning was not entirely serious. ‘When you say things like that to me, a shiver runs up my spine,’ Le Bon said to Gove with a smile. ‘And yes, right back down mine if I may say so, Simon,’ Gove replied with a grin.
In truth, it is Gove’s willingness to make mischief that has helped make him such a gifted politician. Over nearly a decade in the Cabinet, he has built a reputation as a man who gets things done — challenging the orthodoxy, disrupting the status quo.
As Education Secretary under David Cameron, he famously took on what he called ‘the Blob’ — his term for the Left-wing dominated teaching establishment that was responsible for keeping down standards in schools and universities.
As Justice Secretary, he tore up many of the reforms introduced by his predecessor Chris Grayling, and launched into a programme of penal reform.
In his current positions as Environment Secretary, he has emerged as a highly acclaimed, if unlikely, conservative eco-warrior. He has led a series of successful initiatives, such as a ban on plastic straws, introducing CCTV in slaughterhouses, and increasing the plastic bag charge from 5p to 10p.
Bitter Cameron: he is dead to me
Ex-chums: David Cameron and Michael Gove
When David Cameron decided to call a referendum on the EU in early 2016, he and Chancellor George Osborne told Gove that he must not back the Leave campaign. ‘You know if I lost, then it will destroy me,’ said his friend, the Prime Minister. ‘You can’t do this.’
But Gove’s advisers told him he must back Brexit. ‘You will forever be seen as a Jeeves figure, someone who is a wholly owned subsidiary of Cameron Inc., not an independent political act,’ they warned.
After all, they asked, had Cameron considered Gove might be destroyed when he sacked him as Education Secretary? A former Cabinet minister said: ‘Cameron was ruthless enough when the moment came: “Away you go.”
‘When the boot was on the other foot, it’s a bit rich for Cameron to turn round and say he was stabbed in the back.’
One Cameron ally later claimed Gove said: ‘I’m going to take a back seat. I’ll be on their side but I won’t be involved.’
But someone close to Gove denied he had ever been so explicit, and it had been Gove’s manner that caused the confusion. ‘Michael’s so very polite that when he says “Yes” he means “No”, but he thinks the way he says it indicates the underlying intent,’ they said.
Those who observed the two up close believes Cameron saw Gove as an entertaining younger brother. ‘Michael played court jester in a sense to the king and that was how he was perceived . . . then the jester suddenly discovered one of his rattles was in fact a knife.’
On February 18, two days after having dinner at Johnson’s Islington home, Gove announced he was backing Leave. When Cameron lost the referendum and was forced to resign, Gove said that while it was difficult to ‘quantify’ the damage his campaigning for Leave had done to his friendship with the Camerons, it had ‘put a significant strain, absolutely, on it’.
Cameron appeared unwilling to make any advances towards reconciliation, joking in 2018 that he was so behind in writing his memoirs that ‘Michael Gove is still one of the good guys’.
The animosity goes deeper than just Gove being the butt of Cameron’s jokes. According to one friend of the former Prime Minister: ‘Cameron has used the words “dead to me” in private conversations.’
Gove has also worked hard to rebuild his personal reputation after famously scuppering Boris Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016.
When Johnson quit as Foreign Secretary over Theresa May’s Chequers plan for Brexit last year, Gove — his fellow Leave campaign leader — decided to stay loyal to the Prime Minister. Many people thought that he simply couldn’t afford to be seen to be knifing her in the way he knifed Johnson.
His loyalty went further than merely staying on as part of the Cabinet, as Gove played a leading role in defending May as her Tory enemies gathered. He frequently led the counter-attack on her critics both in Parliament and on the TV and radio, making full use of his brilliant oratory skills.
His poise and wit at the Despatch Box — harnessed in devastating fashion for a forensic attack on Jeremy Corbyn earlier this year — is one of the strengths he is playing up in order to win support in the Tory leadership contest.
But it is his record as an energetic and innovative minister which is his real trump card.
Gove was appointed Education Secretary in 2010. He wasted no time on pressing ahead with the greatest change to education provision in England and Wales since the comprehensive school system was rolled out in the Sixties.
Within two months of taking office he had steered the Academies Bill through Parliament, opening the door for secondary and primaries to break free of local authority control and allow headteachers to cater a school’s curriculum to pupils’ needs.
He demanded a greater role for the story of Britain to be taught in classrooms, and held no truck with teachers who had low ambitions for their pupils based on where they were from. For Gove, the great works of literature, philosophy and the arts should be open to all. The sheer pace of reforms and initiatives coming out of the Department for Education led many teachers to feel overwhelmed, but in truth many of his plans — such as replacing GCSEs with a two-tier exam system reminiscent of O-levels — were blocked by his Lib Dem Coalition partners.
But such blockages did not deter Gove, who demanded greater rigour was introduced into the GCSE system, with the scaling back of coursework and exam resits and replaced with traditional end-of-year tests. Eventually, he involved himself in one battle too many — even at one point getting into a debate about whether Blackadder gave an accurate reflection of World War 1 — and David Cameron sacked him in July 2014.
After ten months as chief whip Gove was appointed Justice Secretary in 2015. Whereas he had three years to prepare for the job at Education, he took on the Justice role with little idea of where to start.
He immersed himself in books on justice, penal reform and rehabilitation, but was perhaps most guided by a book he had read as a young boy: the Bible.
At the heart of his time at Justice was a belief that prison should not make criminals worse, and society benefits when those who have erred are given the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.
Gove spoke of tearing down Victorian-era jails that fostered criminality, and talked of linking early release for some prisoners to them acquiring new qualifications and skills while incarcerated. He travelled to America to see first-hand pioneering schemes on helping repeat offenders stay on the straight and narrow — a far cry from a man who in 1998 called for the return of the death penalty.
Gove found himself winning plaudits from organisations such as The Howard League for Penal Reform, and at the same time being criticised by hard-line Tories such as Philip Davies, who asked him: ‘When will the Secretary of State get back his mojo and actually put the victims of crime at the heart of what he is doing?’
Gove’s tenure as Justice Secretary came to an abrupt end after the EU referendum, with May telling him to go away to the backbenches and learn about loyalty after his betrayal of Johnson in the 2016 leadership contest.
Within a year he was back in Cabinet, in the previously oft-ignored role of Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Yet Gove turned Defra into the most exciting and energetic department in Government.
As May struggled to form a narrative aside from the fractious Brexit talks, Gove ensured the Tories were once again seen as the party of conservation. Within six months, he had announced the introduction of CCTV in slaughterhouses, reintroducing beavers into the UK, making the sale of products with microbeads illegal, and a ban on ivory sales. He launched a war on plastic — riding the wave of concerns about ocean pollution.
Gove’s impact was so stark that environmental journalist George Monbiot — an outspoken critic of the Conservatives — found himself tweeting: ‘One by one, @michaelgove is saying the things I’ve waited years for an environment secretary to say.’
Make no mistake, if Gove wins the Tory leadership, the whole machinery of government will be operating at speeds it had no idea it was capable of.
- Adapted from Michael Gove: A Man In A Hurry by Owen Bennett, published by Biteback on July 18 at £20. © Owen Bennett 2019. To pre-order a copy for £16 (offer valid to 15/6/19; p&p free), call 0844 571 0640.
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