Following the publication last week of Standpoint‘s cover article by Iain Martin, entitled “Will Michael Gove Go All the Way to No 10?”, both Fleet Street and the blogosphere seem to be taking the question seriously.
John Rentoul — a long-time admirer of Gove’s — wrote a post about the piece on his blog, praising Iain Martin for posing an “interesting question”. Rentoul then used his Independent on Sunday column to single out Gove as “the unexpected star of the coalition’s first 21 months”; a star, he asserts, that could well rise to the pinnacle of British politics:
It is his success as a departmental minister, though, that raises the question of whether he might ever succeed to the top job. Gove is one of the most courteous people I have ever met, and courtesy goes a long way in politics. He has a confidence and an ideological clarity that make him formidable. That ideology is the purest essence of Blairism, which might not be obviously popular but which has the advantage of being right.
It is possible to see how Johnson or Osborne might not be the first choice to succeed Cameron when a vacancy arises. The other day I suggested that Gove should be moved to sort out the disaster of NHS reform. But that may not be the limit of what he can achieve.
In Saturday’s Telegraph Charles Moore also pointed to Gove as the Conservatives’ top performer. The “unfashionably ideological” Gove, he says, is effecting “a real and possibly irreversible change” in British schools. Even Labour and the Lib Dems have had to grudgingly concede defeat over the Free Schools revolution. Moore also highlighted the qualities that make him one to watch:
Mr Gove offers an attractive combination — complete loyalty to the Cameron modernisation, but a Thatcher-era conviction politics as well. It is extremely powerful. Unfortunately, in the present Cabinet, it is virtually unique.
But the attention Michael Gove is receiving is far from universally positive. A ConservativeHome blog post by Paul Goodman today suggests that the left-of-centre press have begun to target the Education Secretary: “a tall poppy that the Left wants to cut down”. He is riding a wave of popularity and is seen increasingly as a threat. As Goodman puts it:
While Andrew Lansley trudges on with his health bill, the Education Secretary seems to soar skywards. There is no shortage of those who would like bring him down.
In his inaugural Sun on Sunday column, Toby Young posed a similar question to Iain Martin’s: “Could Michael Gove be emerging as a dark horse candidate [to succeed Cameron]?” Young concludes his article:
In a rash moment, I bet Nigella Lawson a large sum of money in 2003 that Boris would be leader of the Conservative Party within 15 years. That bet’s looking safer now.
However, in a three-way contest between Boris, Osborne and Gove, my money would be on Gove.
As Mike Smithson, founder of the website Political Betting, tweeted Standpoint last week, you can still get odds of 20/1 on Michael Gove becoming the next Prime Minister. If the momentum of Govemania keeps pace, it might just be worth putting a few bob on the Education Secretary.
UPDATE: According to Tim Montgomerie, Michael Gove has cancelled a talk this Thursday due to the “growing leadership chatter”. Read about it here.