Michael Gove: an ‘effective, but malign’ minister steps away from politics

The former housing and levelling up minister announces plans to quit front-bench politics

Michael Gove arriving at a Cabinet away day
As a minister, Michael Gove made progress, but he made a lot of enemies, too
(Image credit: WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson “has, in effect, checked out” of 10 Downing Street, said Philip Collins in the London Evening Standard. And “the only minister who ever really does anything has just announced that he has had enough”.

Michael Gove, who was sacked during Johnson’s doomed fight for survival, and is no fan of Liz Truss, has made it clear that he plans to quit front-bench politics.

The country has lost a politician who, “for good or ill”, has made a difference everywhere he served. As education secretary, Gove insisted on higher standards and created new academies, transforming our schools, said The Times. At the environment department, he pushed through legislation on animal welfare, plastic, air pollution and pesticides.

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Without his advocacy as housing minister, the removal of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings “would have remained mired in Whitehall bureaucracy”. And of course, without his “rigour” and “commitment”, Brexit might not have happened. His principles, and his ability to get things done, will be greatly missed.

Career marked by ‘shamelessness’

To hear his admirers, you’d think Gove was a candidate for “beatification”, said Tom Peck on The Independent. In fact, his career has been marked by “breathtaking shamelessness”. In the Brexit campaign he deliberately stoked fears of mass immigration by playing up unfounded concerns about Turkish accession to the EU. Famously, he also brushed aside forecasts of economic harm by asserting that “people have had enough of experts”.

Yes, he was “effective”, in his way. “The consequences are millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables rotting in British fields that no one wants to pick”; an irreconcilable problem in Northern Ireland; families spending the first day of their holidays queueing to board ferries for 20 hours; and “a general sense of a country divided into groups that still loathe each other more than half a decade later”.

‘His record will be debated for years’

Truss regards Gove as “effective, but malign”, said Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. And she may have a point. In 2016, Gove scuppered Johnson’s leadership campaign when he declared his former friend unfit for the job, in “one of the most spectacular acts of betrayal in politics”.

As a minister, he made progress, but he made a lot of enemies, too: as when he and Dominic Cummings took on what they called “the blob” of the education establishment. David Cameron, Theresa May and Johnson all concluded that he was toxic, and sacked him. “His record will be debated for years to come – but few can doubt that he leaves frontline politics as one of the most consequential ministers of modern times.”

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