The Times, this morning, reports:
Mr Gove, the justice secretary, was unapologetic as he faced accusations of committing an “enormous political treachery”, saying that he was prepared to sacrifice his friends for his convictions.
I am not a natural fan of Michael Gove, nor have I learnt to respect him yet (according to the BBC, he is respected by both wings of the Conservative Party, which is nice for him). I have however noticed that he was more than happy to sacrifice other things – teachers, parents, schools and children, for a start – for his convictions, so why not his friends too?
I hope that in a few days, or weeks, or months, he will reflect back on that position and think about it. It is hard in the hype to know exactly what the reasons were for Gove yesterday so spectacularly undermining his erstwhile pal from the Leave campaign, but something to do with his convictions is in there somewhere.
This does not win public trust – all of this knifing (you think of Gaitskell and Wilson and the Labour Party of the 1950s and 1960s) used to be done in private, now it is done in leaked e-mails and the like – and it undermines the trust that politicians deserve but find so hard to retain. The issue in leadership, it seems to me, is that you win (whatever winning means) on the basis on the quality of the relationships you build, and on the quality of the trust you create. You also do it by not holding so clearly to your convictions that you cannot modify them, through debate, robust defence and disagreement. The fact that this is widely understood, and yet Gove (and others?) appear to think that they can treat this as a game, a replay of the EU referendum (also treated as a game by some) or a bit of boys’ club oneupmanship, highlights the disrespect they have for the people they lead. Contrast Gove’s approach with Theresa May’s speech yesterday, steeped in a public service ethic, and you can see why one will win wide respect, whilst the other has gone a long way to losing the bit he had.