Michael Gove’s endorsement of Theresa May’s Brexit Deal and his consistent support for her leadership undermines his credibility as a candidate to successfully lead the country out of the European Union, says Sean Walsh.
I remember Tony Blair once remarking that it is not an “ignoble ambition” to want to be the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. He made the comment as part of his perennial struggle to bat away the increasingly shrill imprecations of the lunatic living next door. Like most of what Blair says the apparent reasonableness of the remark dissolves on examination.
There most certainly is something ignoble about the pursuit of power for its own sake. And the person who seeks power out of a sense of entitlement is the last person who should get their rapacious hands on it.
Which brings us seamlessly to the ongoing leadership ambitions of Mr Michael Gove.
Gove’s leadership pitch seems to be that we should leave the EU immediately by the end of 2020 facilitated by a deal that secured the Conservatives 9% of the vote in the European Elections. You’d be forgiven for concluding that even Gerald Ratner was savvier than that. Most of us were under the impression that Mrs May’s “deal” was dead and buried but Mr Gove would beg to differ, seeing in it a Lazarus-like potential for resuscitation; and in himself a sort of Jesus of Nazareth ability to bring that about.
Let’s remember that if Gove’s Jesus wept re-enactment is successful then what will emerge unclothed from the tomb is not a “Withdrawal Agreement” but a “Remain Treaty”. May negotiated this treaty not as an equal but as a supplicant, ever keen to decamp to Brussels to prostrate our country at the feet of those who mean us ill. The terms of her deal are intended to preserve that supplicant status for the subsequent negotiation of a future trading deal. Gove is one of those who would force us into this straitjacket by telling us that we should think of the Remain Treaty as being the first step in a journey towards freedom. They claim that it allows us to step out of the political institutions of the EU while remaining in its economic mechanisms. This is nonsense. The economic and political structures of the Union are comingled to such a purity that no process of political distillation would serve to separate them.
This is the level of ambition that Gove has for this country: he would have us as a prisoner before the EU’s parole board with himself as the legal representation arguing, perversely, that his client should remain banged up. Or, at best, be transferred to an open prison.
We are often reminded (usually by those “close to” him) that Michael Gove is an intelligent man. So, does he really believe that May’s deal is in any way consistent with leaving the EU? It may be that he doesn’t. In which case we’re in an interesting situation. If you’re lying to me and I know you’re lying to me and you know I know you’re lying to me, then we have a “knowing suspension of belief”. On the other hand, if you’re lying to me and I know that you’re lying to me, but you think I don’t know that you’re lying to me then at some point we’re going to fall out.
But, briefly at least, let’s be fair and assume that Gove really believes the WA could be the basis of a genuine Brexit. Why would anyone believe that? There is a section of Continuity Remain that makes the point that a binary referendum is no way to settle a non-binary issue and that the 2016 referendum result does not self-interpret in the direction of one form of Brexit. Brexit is, they say, “complex” and its determination should not be left to the hoi polloi many of whom (whisper it softly) will grow old and die. People who say that are precisely half as clever as they think they are: they might be correct on the first point but are demonstrably mistaken on the second. A situation can be complex, but it needn’t be indeterminate just because of that complexity. There are systems of logic written to take these complexities into account. I know that because I used to teach them. But such axiomatic systems are generally parasitic upon the idea that at the boundaries of the complexity there are states of affairs that are either definitively this way or that and concomitant propositions describing them that are either true or false. A building can be complicated in its architecture and labyrinthine in its internal layout. It doesn’t mean there are no exit doors. And the Byzantine nature of its architecture doesn’t alter the fact that at a given point you are either inside it or not.
Michael Gove might have fallen victim to the fallacy that because leaving the EU is complex then one form of leaving is just as good as another. This is false. There are versions of “leaving” that involve remaining. His belief that in order to leave we need to do a deal to leave might be a result of the commonplace misconception that there is a compromise available when logic says there isn’t.
Gove’s candidacy is in any case a sort of impertinence. This is the man who in an Ealing comedy of manners, in 2016 gifted us the technocracy of the May administration. What was most offensive about his assassination of his friend, Boris Johnson, at that point wasn’t so much that it was ruthless as that it was inept. I’m sure that an updated and social media adaptation of Machiavelli’s The Prince would not have him stabbing himself in the back in front of the nearest bank of TV cameras.
Every current leadership contender who remained within the post-Chequers cabinet has questions to answer and the longer they remained the more diminished their claim on the leadership must be. Mr Gove’s wife, Sarah Vine, recently wrote a piece which might as well have been called “My husband is useless so please make him PM to get him out of the house”. I hope she will not be too inconvenienced if we politely decline the request.
We need somebody with the ambition to bust us out of the gaol. Open prison is not good enough.