My friend Michael Gove is an honourable and intelligent man so when, a few weeks ago, I read reports that he was thinking of throwing in his lot with the “Remain” camp, I rang him up in horror.
“Is it true?” I asked.
“I’m still undecided. Torn between what I feel about the EU and loyalty to the PM.”
So I said: “Not many people get the chance in their lives to save Britain. Drake; Nelson; Churchill. Your call.”
“No pressure then,” said the Lord Chancellor.
I’d love to be able to claim that it was me wot swung it. But I honestly don’t believe that, for all his professed vacillations, Gove was ever capable of doing anything other than nailing his colours to the Brexit mast.
The same is true, for different reasons, of Boris Johnson.
Last week, when lots of other armchair experts didn’t, I correctly predicted that both men would inevitably vote out.
I’m very glad they did since I think it will make all the difference to the #Brexit campaign. Put it this way, had Gove and Johnson not come out for Brexit, the “Leave” camp would never have stood a chance of persuading wavering middle-ground voters to take the plunge. With Boris’s charisma and popularity and Gove’s intellectual heft to back it Brexit now stands a serious chance of becoming reality.
Let me explain – briefly, because I’m ill and mustn’t write too much – what I think made up their minds.
First Gove. Gove’s decision is the easiest to explain: integrity. Of all my Oxford contemporaries to go into politics Gove is the only one who has not been intellectually or morally corrupted by the process. I’m sure almost everyone who goes into politics (in Britain, at any rate; less so, perhaps, in, say Nigeria) does so for the noblest of reasons. But what they quickly realise is that if they are ever to enjoy career advancement, they must compromise their ideals for whatever is thought at the time to be the “greater good” of their party. In the Cameroon era this has meant squishy, ideology-free centrism.
Yes, of course at times Gove has had to pay lip service to this nonsense. But when push comes to shove, when his Lieutenant asks him to torch the village, Gove shakes his head. And when his Lieutenant says: “That’s an order, Sergeant,” Gove still shakes his head. Gove understands that war is hell and that when you’re in combat you do an awful lot of stuff that you’d rather not do. But unlike most of his battle-jaded, campaign-brutalised platoon he has a line he will never cross. Torching innocent villagers in their grass huts is one of them. Denying Britain its once in a lifetime opportunity to escape the shackles of the European superstate is another. And if Lt Cameron never talks to him again, well, so be it. You do not torch innocent villagers in their grass huts: period.
Now Boris. It is a cliche to observe that Boris is a man long possessed by a Churchillian sense of destiny, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
It is said that Cameron offered him every job in the cabinet including Home Secretary in a bid to keep him onside. But the one job Boris wants is not in Cameron’s gift. Prime Minister, obv.
Boris is still young, virile, ambitious. Being Mayor of London was a great fun but it’s an amuse gueule – foreplay, if you prefer – not the main event.
Tactically, strategically, plumping for the Leave camp was the obvious thing to do. Such a no-brainer, in fact, that I’m totally amazed anyone ever thought he would do otherwise.
When Cameron steps down as PM, his obvious successor is the Machiavellian networker George Osborne (aka Mandelborne), who has spent the last few years devoting at least as much energy to his leadership candidacy than he has to being Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Boris clearly needed a point of difference to sell himself as the alternative candidate – ideally one that would him endear him to the Tory grassroots. Luckily Osborne has decided to be pro-EU. So: ker-ching!
But there’s another reason too, I think, why Boris went the way he did. This is just a theory of mine, based on having known him for years, studied at the same university and worked in the same trade. I’ll tell you about it in a bit – there isn’t time now cos I’ve got to go to bloody hospital again. It’ll be worth waiting, for, though, not least because so many people right now are talking so much unutterable shite about this business. And my insights are special, so there.