Re­turn of un­holy al­liance

The Courier & Advertiser (Fife Edition) - - NEWS OPINION -

With all the back­stab­bing at West­min­ster – not just now but for­ever (see Gor­don Brown’s mem­oir) – we should be heart­ened when a cou­ple get back to­gether again.

How­ever, when the pair are per­haps two of the most con­niv­ing in the Com­mons, the thought of them in ca­hoots once again is spine tin­gling rather than cockle warm­ing.

Boris John­son and Michael Gove, cur­rently the for­eign and en­vi­ron­ment sec­re­taries, were joined at the hip dur­ing the Tory lead­er­ship con­test of 2016 that pro­pelled Theresa May to power.

They had forged an al­liance as prom­i­nent Leave cam­paign­ers and when David Cameron re­signed in the wake of his EU ref­er­en­dum de­feat, they fought as one for a Boris John­son pre­mier­ship. Then, of course, they fell out, when Mr Gove, declar­ing his erst­while ally un­able to “pro­vide the lead­er­ship or build the team for the task ahead”, de­cided to stand for the num­ber one job him­self.

Ev­ery­one, even sea­soned po­lit­i­cal anoraks, were as­tounded by Mr Gove’s treach­ery; some of us, search­ing for an ex­pla­na­tion, won­dered if the bril­liant ed­u­ca­tion re­former had acted out of al­tru­ism to save the coun­try from the dis­as­ter of Boris in Down­ing Street. Such an over-gen­er­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tion now looks naïve in the light of the events of the past few days. Mr John­son, most would agree, has al­ways been out for him­self. Mr Gove, too, it seems is equally, if not more, self-serv­ing.

Blun­der As a team they rep­re­sent all that is base in Bri­tish pol­i­tics and if they are both still in their jobs by the next gen­eral elec­tion they will give the op­po­si­tion am­ple am­mu­ni­tion to de­stroy the Con­ser­va­tives.

Where to start? Their joint (leaked) let­ter to Mrs May push­ing for a hard Brexit was a pub­lic dec­la­ra­tion of their rekin­dled re­la­tion­ship. But the real ev­i­dence that Mr Gove was once more in Mr John­son’s camp came dur­ing An­drew Marr’s BBC show on Sun­day morn­ing. Quizzed about the fate of the Bri­tish woman, Nazanin Zaghari-Rat­cliffe, be­ing held cap­tive in Iran on trumped up charges of work­ing against the Ira­nian regime, Mr Gove ap­peared to throw doubt on her in­no­cence, say­ing he didn’t know why she had been in the coun­try.

This was a week af­ter Mr John­son placed the woman in greater dan­ger than she was al­ready by claim­ing she was “train­ing jour­nal­ists” in Iran, de­spite the fam­ily’s in­sis­tence that she had been there on hol­i­day.

Mr John­son’s ca­reer has hung in the bal­ance since his ex­tra­or­di­nary clum­si­ness proved beyond doubt that he is not fit for high of­fice. His re­marks were quickly seized upon by the Ira­nian Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard, which con­trols Mrs Zaghari-Rat­cliffe’s fate, as jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for her im­pris­on­ment.

Mr John­son pre­sum­ably acted out of ig­no­rance, which is un­for­give­able con­sid­er­ing the de­gree of brief­ing he would have had from the For­eign Of­fice. He has be­lat­edly apol­o­gised for the harm he caused, and vowed to travel to Iran be­fore the end of the year.

He may still be able to put things right as far as the Rat­cliffes are con­cerned but there is noth­ing he can now do to per­suade the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish vot­ers that he is a safe pair of hands in any min­is­te­rial role. Iron­i­cally, his ba­con has been saved, tem­po­rar­ily at least, by Richard Rat­cliffe, Nazanin’s hus­band, who be­lieves it would not be in his wife’s in­ter­ests if the For­eign Sec­re­tary was re­moved at this crit­i­cal junc­ture, and has asked Mr John­son to ac­com­pany him to Iran.

While Mr John­son could blame in­com­pe­tence or lazi­ness for his aw­ful blun­der, Mr Gove has no such ex­cuse. With the en­vi­ron­ment as his port­fo­lio he could have de­flected Mr Marr’s ques­tions on the Rat­cliffe case as be­ing out­side his ex­per­tise.

Con­spire In­stead he chose to de­fend Boris John­son by con­tra­dict­ing the of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment po­si­tion that Zaghari-Rat­cliffe was in Iran on hol­i­day. It was a throw­away com­ment but ut­tered with the ut­most pre­med­i­ta­tion. Mr Gove, un­like Mr John­son, doesn’t stum­ble on the po­lit­i­cal stage; his lines are well re­hearsed.

This was a cal­cu­lated at­tempt to come to the res­cue of his friend/foe/ friend again re­gard­less of the con­se­quences for the jailed Bri­ton, who af­ter 18 months be­hind bars is said to be at break­ing point.

A brief mo­ment in Mr Gove’s po­lit­i­cal life has told us ev­ery­thing we need to know about him; that his per­sonal tra­jec­tory is more im­por­tant than the wel­fare, and maybe even sur­vival, of a fel­low coun­try­woman.

Mr Gove has fallen back in with Mr John­son not be­cause they are ide­o­log­i­cal soul mates, or mates of any kind, but be­cause he sees ad­vance­ment for him­self in the ar­range­ment. Two can con­spire bet­ter than one to un­der­mine their party and their leader, and thus pro­mote their own agen­das.

Mrs May is too weak­ened to get rid of them at the mo­ment but maybe they will self-de­struct, as they did so spec­tac­u­larly last year. To­gether or apart, they are bad for each other, bad for the Tories and bad for the na­tion.

Mr Gove on The An­drew Marr Show on Sun­day, when he ap­peared to leave doubt over the ac­tions of Nazanin Zaghar­iRat­cliffe.

Jenny Hjul

As I See It

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