This talented and versatile man comes in for much undue criticism: currently for maintaining his bid for the Tory leadership after his open, honest and humble admission that he “once” took cocaine. While his huge talents speak for themselves, his marvellous versatility has tended to go unnoticed. Whereas Humpty Dumpty could only manage to believe six impossible things before breakfast, Michael has the ability to hold so many seemingly contradictory notions in his head at once that one commentator described him as “a political magician who can square the circle.”
There are numerous examples of his astonishing flexibility. Who else could identify himself as the champion of Leave and yet remain in glorious cahoots with arch-Remainer George Osborne, instigator of Project Fear?
Even more spectacularly, in 2016 when he was convenor of Leave and manager of Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, he abruptly withdrew his support from Boris on the very day that Boris declared his candidateship. Who else in political life is gifted with such an exquisite sense of timing?
Again, he wrote a hagiological appreciation of the ultra-right train-spotter Michael Portillo and in the next breath praised Tony Blair, asking, “What’s not to like?”
He had the good sense and tastefulness to describe to the Leveson Enquiry Rupert Murdoch as “one of the most impressive and significant men of the last fifty years.”
While promoting himself as a progressive minister of education, he cancelled the government’s ambitious project Building Schools for the Future.
One of the most subtle minds in public life, Michael affirms himself “A Christian and proud of it.” But his faith does not let his strong faith impede his wholehearted support for all things LGBT+, about which the Bible and church teaching over two millennia have rather different things to say.
And he is no prude. Only this week he had the audacious wit to go on air and make a joke about Boris Johnson’s sexual proclivities: “Don’t pull out, Boris. You’ve done it before, but I say don’t pull out!”
He is a first class debater who can hold a myriad views contemporaneously – as easy in agreement as St Janus himself.
Before I end this appreciation, I should declare an interest. When I was rector of St Michael’s, Cornhill, Mr Gove invited me to have a drink with him a deux on the South Bank. At this fascinating meeting he declared his purpose was, “For you to help teach me how to think.”
But what could I possibly teach such a paragon?
Read more about The 2019 Salisbury Review Appeal