Shakespeare could have written this plot to oust Boris Johnson from the leadership race to become the UK’s next prime minister. Or maybe we should give the honour to Nicholas Machiavelli? Or maybe it was George Osborne’s manoeuvres from behind the gates of his mansion in Buckinghamshire that deserve the honour?
Isn’t it strange that the wife of one of Boris Johnson’s closest collaborators in the Brexit referendum, the Daily Mail journalist, Sarah Vine, accidentally sent a damning email relating to Boris Johnson to some unknown person called Newman who then proceeded to put the contents of the email into the public domain by sending it to Sky News? It was all a great mistake, according to Mr Gove’s wife.
Now Mr. Johnson is out of the race and the path is clear for Mr. Gove to contest the leadership, something which he repeatedly told everyone was an office he was unsuited for. Suddenly now he has become suited for it. Even Machiavelli would be hard put to think up this episode. Perhaps the comparison between Mrs. Gove and Lady Macbeth may be one analogy that can be drawn. Another analogy being branded about is Michael Gove’s treatment of Boris Johnson, one time close friend and ally, which relates to Julius Caesar’s last words before he was assassinated; ‘et tu, Brute’.
Michael Gove is reported over and over throughout the years saying he did not want to be prime minister and was unsuited for the job, “There is a special quality you need that is indefinable, I know I don’t have it”, Gove told a reporter. Now, of course, he is suitable. But this plotting must have taken months to evolve. May be there is a little of the false humility of Charles Dickens’ character, Uriah Heep, about Gove.
It is no secret that Mr. Johnson was broadly in favour of Europe before the referendum campaign began. Mr. Gove, who was a well known Euro-sceptic, persuaded Johnson to join the Brexit group , according to a report in the conservative newspaper The Telegraph, during a dinner party on the 16th February last. Gove needed a formidable campaigner to give Brexit more weight, and Boris Johnson was the right person.
But during the campaign, Gove and his wife spent weekends at the country residence of George Osborne at Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire, where Osborne pushed for the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer if Gove became the new prime minister. Osborne likewise perused this with Boris Johnson. Johnson agreed to it verbally, but refused to do so in writing, according to new reports. Then along comes another Brexit contender for the leadership, Andrea Leadsom. She agreed to drop her campaign for leadership if Boris Johnson offered her the Chancellorship, which he did, but again not in writing. She then withdrew her support.
Gove waited till the last moment to inform Johnson through a third party that he no longer supported him and had to decide to run himself. Other Conservative politicians such as Raab and Bole followed Gove. Now Johnson’s supporters were saying, “He (Johnson) hasn’t been double crossed, he was triple crossed”. It transpires that Gove had told Theresa May long before the final day that he intended to run.
But, we may ask after this rather strange episode, is there any wonder why the trustworthiness of public figures is under scrutiny by the general public?
But this distrust has spread right across the board and not just to politicians. Last week, for example, I read an article by Peter Sutherland, the present UN Commissioner for Refugees commenting on Brexit, in which he basically said that the result could not be accepted and it needed to be overturned. Shortly after this I was listening to a well known radio discussion programme on why Brexit had succeeded. I was surprised at how each of the participants in turn rejected Mr. Sutherland’s stance outright.
Sutherland has enormous influence in the UK and elsewhere, due to his political and business experience as a former attorney general in Ireland, a EU commissioner, Director of GATT, chairman of Goldman Sachs and Barclays Bank, none of which was relevant for them. They associated him with big business interests and thus being tainted, and dismissed anything he had to say on the Brexit result.
This trend of a rejection of the credibility of well known figures represents not only rejection of personalities but also a rejection of the relevance of their positions, and experience. Whether we like Sutherland or not, it is clear that his credibility as a public figure only exists for those who agree with him. The Conservative leadership race in London adds to this scepticism about the credibility of well-known figures.
The story of the leadership race in the UK continues. John Le Carre would find it hard to get a better plot to write on. As one writer put it “It makes the House of Cards look like Teletubbies”.