Saturday 12 December 2020

Ben Wallace on Michael Gove

July 2016 and Ben "Loose Lips" Wallace gives us his thoughts on Michael Gove, rather amusingly.

Ben, a fighting man who didn't get many medals, was and is a Boris groupie and still quivers with righteous anger when Gove's name (or that of his good lady wife) is mentioned. Read on for the Telegraph article Wallace produced all those many years ago.

There is a convention among campaign managers that, after the dust has settled and a new leader is selected, they get together over a drink and compare who promised to vote for whom. Inevitably, a few of my erstwhile colleagues will have promised to vote for all the candidates. You see, a Conservative leadership election is about convincing one of the most ambitious electorates who is best to lead the party.

Just like the operational tours I used to deploy on in the Army, you learn a lot during the contest. You learn who to trust, you learn who is honourable and you learn who are you friends are. Ultimately what matters in a campaign is not who you vote for, but how you conduct yourself - because we need a functioning party after the event. We need to deliver a manifesto and a government. The huge intakes of MPs in 2010 and 2015 have never been part of such a campaign, and at times a few needed to be reminded of that point.

Over the past week I have spoken to more than a hundred of my colleagues, from all sides of the party. The overwhelming demand is for a candidate who can unify and be trusted to deliver on the referendum result. There was also a burning desire for a government which will not be conducted by an inner circle whose members consider those who disagree with them lesser beings than they are. We need optimism, change and leadership.

When on Thursday morning, just before 9am, I got a call from a journalist asking me if it was true Michael Gove was deserting Boris, I denied it. It couldn't have been true. Only the night before we had confirmed 97 names of supporters, and I knew of three more coming over that day. Michael hadn't said anything or hinted at any frustrations over the previous four days so I presumed it was just another story from the rumour mill that accompanies leadership campaigns.

I walked round the corner to see Lynton Crosby, ashen white, taking a call from someone who turned out to be Michael Gove. He has done the dirty on us, mate, were the words I remember most afterwards. Boris was at his home rehearsing for his speech unaware that the press knew before him.

From the minute Michael Gove came on board with Boris's leadership campaign, things started to go wrong. There was a leak a day in the press, starting with the camera crews at Boris's house in Oxfordshire on the first day and ending with the infamous email from Sarah Vine, Michael's wife, accidentally finding its way to the papers.

For me this wasn't new. When I was a government whip and Michael was the chief whip, the office leaked like a sieve. Important policy and personnel details made their way to the papers. Michael seems to have an emotional need to gossip, particularly when drink is taken, as it all too often seemed to be.

One of the most privileged parts of my job as a Northern Ireland minister is to work alongside members of MI5 and the police. They work, every day, anonymously, to keep us safe. In their world loose talk costs lives. It does in a prime minister's world too. UK citizens deserve to know that when they go to sleep at night their secrets and their nation's secrets aren't shared in the newspaper column of the prime minister's wife the next day, or traded away with newspaper proprietors over fine wine.

I always told Boris we needed to show that we had support from across the political spectrum. Vote Boris was not to be a takeover by Vote Leave, nor was it to be about an inner circle. But Michael thought otherwise.

He already had Dominic Cummings (his former special adviser, who has the same effect on MPs as arsenic) making plans for who and how to run No 10.

Whoever leads the Conservative Party needs to be trustworthy. We have a divided country and a divided parliamentary party. An untrustworthy Brexiteer is no different from an untrustworthy Remainer. Governing is a serious business. It is not a game, nor is it a role play of House of Cards.

Boris is many things, but nasty he is not. I remember when he made his decision to back Brexit. I pleaded with him not to. I said it would lose him the leadership. But he said sovereignty mattered more than anything. At the time David Cameron was negotiating hard in Brussels. Boris agreed it would be dishonourable to pull the rug from under the PM as he sat at dinner with EU leaders trying to get the best for the UK. So he waited till he was back. Gove didn't. That says it all.


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