Af­ter co­caine rev­e­la­tions, new blow as Rudd backs Hunt. But em­bat­tled PM con­tender in­sists he’s ‘ready to lead’

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Ja­son Groves Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor Turn to Page 6

MICHAEL Gove vowed to fight on last night de­spite suf­fer­ing a sec­ond blow in 48 hours when Am­ber Rudd backed his lead­er­ship ri­val Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Gove, whose cam­paign to suc­ceed theresa May has been rocked by the Daily Mail’s rev­e­la­tions of his past co­caine use, will to­day in­sist he is ‘un­daunted’ and ready to lead the coun­try.

at his cam­paign launch the em­bat­tled En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary will say he is the ‘se­ri­ous leader’ needed for ‘a se­ri­ous time’. How­ever his bid to win over Miss Rudd, who has also been courted by Boris John­son, has been wrecked by her de­ci­sion to sup­port Mr Hunt.

Seen by some as a tory ‘king­maker’, the Work and Pen­sions Sec­re­tary turned down Mr John­son af­ter he re­fused to rule out a No Deal de­par­ture from the EU.

She said Mr Hunt was a skilled ne­go­tia­tor with the ‘vi­sion, craft and at­ten­tion to de­tail’ that were re­quired in Down­ing Street.

Fur­ther Cab­i­net heavy­weights – in­clud­ing Philip Ham­mond – are ex­pected to back the For­eign Sec­re­tary as he tries to ce­ment his claim as the ‘Stop Boris’ can­di­date.

Mr Gove was last night bat­tling to put his lead­er­ship cam­paign back on track fol­low­ing

his con­fes­sion that he took co­caine on ‘sev­eral so­cial oc­ca­sions’ 20 years ago.

In an un­com­fort­able live TV in­ter­view he said his ac­tions were a crime and he was for­tu­nate not to have been caught and pros­e­cuted.

‘It was a pro­found mis­take and I’ve seen the dam­age that drugs do,’ he said. ‘I’ve seen it close up and I’ve also seen it in the work that I’ve done as a politi­cian and that’s why I deeply re­gret the mis­take that I made.’ His ad­mis­sion came as: France’s Em­manuel Macron warned of reprisals if Boris John­son tried to withhold the £39bil­lion Brexit di­vorce pay­ment;

Health Sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock re­vealed plans to in­tro­duce a state-backed in­sur­ance scheme to end the scan­dal of peo­ple hav­ing to sell their homes to pay for so­cial care;

Mr Hunt said Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel has told him the EU was ‘will­ing to ne­go­ti­ate’ on the Brexit deal with a new prime min­is­ter;

For­mer Tory chair­man Baroness Warsi called for Mr Gove to with­draw from the race while ‘mired in this is­sue of trust and hypocrisy’;

A bi­og­ra­phy ex­clu­sively se­ri­alised in the Mail to­day dis­closes that Mr Gove was not, as he thought un­til this year, born to a stu­dent in Ed­in­burgh who gave him up for adop­tion. His mother was in­stead an un­mar­ried cook­ery demon­stra­tor who gave birth in Aberdeen;

The book records that he would ‘wind up’ Theresa May to­gether with David Cameron and Ge­orge Os­borne, and once crit­i­cised her so vir­u­lently that one on­looker de­scribed it as ‘like do­mes­tic abuse’;

Sa­jid Javid, whose lead­er­ship cam­paign has been boosted by the sup­port of Scot­tish Tory leader Ruth David­son, said Bri­tain was ready to elect its first eth­nic mi­nor­ity PM.

Mr Gove will to­day un­veil plans to abol­ish VAT af­ter Brexit, say­ing: ‘I have led from the front un­daunted by crit­i­cism and res­o­lute in the need to solve com­plex is­sues be­cause that is what our coun­try needs.’

But he con­tin­ued to face pres­sure about his past drug use yes­ter­day. On the BBC’s An­drew Marr Show, he strug­gled to an­swer ques­tions about how he had com­pleted US visa forms that de­mand de­tails of drug use.

And he faced ac­cu­sa­tions of hypocrisy over rev­e­la­tions that he had passed a law as ed­u­ca­tion sec­re­tary that banned teach­ers from work­ing in schools if they were con­victed of us­ing Class A drugs. A source close to Mr Gove last night said he had taken le­gal ad­vice from a QC who was ‘sat­is­fied Michael com­pleted his US visa forms cor­rectly’.

The source said that a code of con­duct ban­ning teach­ers from us­ing Class A drugs had pre-dated his time in of­fice.

But Mr Gove faced claims of hypocrisy over a col­umn he wrote for The Times in 1999 hit­ting out at ‘ Lon­don’s lib­eral con­sen­sus’ around de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of drugs. Some se­nior Tories ral­lied around the En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary yes­ter­day, say­ing his past mis­takes should not be held against him.

Lead­er­ship ri­val Es­ther McVey said: ‘I hope peo­ple will ac­tu­ally judge him by how good he’s been as a politi­cian. So I do be­lieve he can, he said it was some­thing he did 20 years ago and he re­grets it.’

Fel­low Tory Michael Fabri­cant said: ‘What some­one did 20 years ago – be­fore be­com­ing an MP and not hurt­ing any­one else – is a com­plete ir­rel­e­vance.’ But Home Sec­re­tary Sa­jid Javid put the boot in in an in­ter­view with Sky News.

He said: ‘Any­one who takes drugs should be think­ing about how they are not just hurt­ing them­selves, but how they are de­stroy­ing so many count­less lives on the way.’

Mr Gove said he fully ac­cepted that ‘drugs wreck lives’. But he sug­gested his past mis­takes had made him a rounder in­di­vid­ual.

Nom­i­na­tions for the con­test to suc­ceed Mrs May close this af­ter­noon, with 11 can­di­dates ex­pected to stand. De­fence Sec­re­tary Penny Mor­daunt was last night still con­sid­er­ing whether to throw her hat into the ring. On Thurs­day, Tory MPs will hold the first in a se­ries of votes de­signed to whit­tle the field of can­di­dates down to two, who will then face a run-off de­cided by the party’s 160,000 mem­bers.

Mr John­son has emerged as the odds-on favourite, de­spite adopt­ing a ‘sub­ma­rine’ strat­egy that has seen his ad­vis­ers shield him from pub­lic scru­tiny in or­der to min­imise the risk of a cat­a­strophic gaffe.

Mr Gove had been in close con­tention with Mr Hunt for the sec­ond place on the bal­lot pa­per. But he was drift­ing in the bet­ting mar­kets last night in the wake of the drug rev­e­la­tions.

His trou­bles will give new hope to Mr Han­cock and Mr Javid, whose cam­paigns have yet to catch fire, that they could yet make it on to the fi­nal bal­lot pa­per.

Chan­cel­lor Mr Ham­mond, Miss Mor­daunt and Busi­ness Sec­re­tary Greg Clark are ex­pected to be among the Cab­i­net heavy­weights ready to sup­port Mr Hunt. Writ­ing

in The Times, Miss Rudd said Mr Hunt had ‘con­fi­dence, craft, vi­sion and at­ten­tion to de­tail’.

She added: ‘It’s not enough to be told to shut your eyes, cross your fin­gers, pick up some magic beans and be­lieve in Bri­tain. We need a skilled ne­go­tia­tor and a deal-maker, not an in­struc­tion for more op­ti­mism.’

Do­minic Raab’s cam­paign fal­tered as hard­line Brex­i­teers Steve Baker and Priti Pa­tel fell be­hind Mr John­son. And Tory sources said Mrs May’s deputy David Lid­ing­ton would back Mr Han­cock.

SATuR­dAy’s daily Mail was, in the Law­son household, a mar­malade drop­per. By this I mean it had the sort of front-page story which makes the reader drop the knife with which he was about to spread the mar­malade on his break­fast toast.

In case there is any­one who still doesn’t know, it re­vealed — as part of the se­ri­al­i­sa­tion of a bi­og­ra­phy of the wouldbe Con­ser­va­tive leader Michael Gove — that this ap­par­ently up­right and high­minded scot had 20 years ago, on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, taken co­caine.

Per­haps my as­ton­ish­ment was a func­tion of my own naivety. It may be that I am un­usual in never hav­ing used il­licit drugs as a young man. As my el­der daugh­ter said to me: ‘you were prob­a­bly born aged 50.’

so I am re­luc­tantly forced to con­cede that it may in fact be a mi­nor­ity of peo­ple of my gen­er­a­tion who have not bro­ken this law in one form or an­other.


I had an­other such jolt some years ago when talk­ing to the head­mas­ter of West­min­ster school — which sends a higher pro­por­tion of its pupils to Ox­ford and Cam­bridge than any of its ri­vals — and ask­ing whether he had been able to root out drug-tak­ing, which had been a big prob­lem when I at­tended the school.

‘No, I haven’t,’ he replied, then added, dev­as­tat­ingly: ‘It doesn’t make it easy for us when their par­ents are do­ing it, too’.

Michael Gove is now a par­ent of two teenagers and I am sure is telling the truth when he says that his use of co­caine was lim­ited to his time as a young jour­nal­ist, long pre­ced­ing both his mar­riage and his de­ci­sion to be­come a leg­is­la­tor. He has made a frank ad­mis­sion of do­ing some­thing which was wrong, and con­cedes it was noth­ing less than a crime.

yet he has now been ac­cused of out­ra­geous hypocrisy be­cause, in 1999, ap­par­ently at the time of his co­caine use, he wrote a col­umn in the Times ar­gu­ing against the le­gal­i­sa­tion of such drugs.

Given the charge, it’s worth re­peat­ing the most rel­e­vant para­graph of that 20year-old ar­ti­cle: ‘There is no greater sin in jour­nal­is­tic eyes than hypocrisy. It jus­ti­fies a score of tabloid stings, a hun­dred bro­ken ca­reers. How dare the min­is­ter en­dorse fam­ily val­ues while him­self stray­ing? And how can I live with my oc­ca­sional spliff un­less I use my col­umn to cam­paign for le­gal­is­ing drugs?

‘ But there is a greater sin than hypocrisy. It is the re­fusal to up­hold val­ues be­cause one may one­self have fallen short of them.’

Gove — who, to re­peat, was not an MP, let alone a gov­ern­ment min­is­ter at the time — was ac­tu­ally ar­gu­ing that politi­cians should not be ban­ished for hypocrisy, and that it is cor­rect to up­hold stan­dards which one has not lived up to one­self.

He was, in fact, ad­vanc­ing the po­si­tion most fe­lic­i­tously ex­pressed by the 17th­cen­tury French au­thor Fran­cois de La Rochefou­cauld, that ‘ hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue’.

Or, as the high Tory colum­nist Michael Whar­ton put it cen­turies later: ‘With­out a cer­tain amount of hypocrisy, civilised so­ci­ety would not sur­vive.’

But, as I say, it is not clear that Gove is a hyp­ocrite. In his pe­riod as Lord Chan­cel­lor, re­spon­si­ble for the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice in this coun­try, he aligned him­self with the cause of pe­nal re­form, and was dis­tinctly lib­eral in his ap­proach to sen­tenc­ing ( not, as it hap­pens, some­thing with which I agree).

Like many such pe­nal re­form­ers, he is strongly in­flu­enced by the Chris­tian faith, with its pow­er­ful em­pha­sis on for­give­ness and per­sonal re­demp­tion.

As the Mail’s se­ri­al­i­sa­tion of his bi­og­ra­phy re­vealed: ‘He took on the Jus­tice min­istry with lit­tle idea of where to start. He im­mersed him­self in books on jus­tice, pe­nal re­form and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, but was per­haps most guided by a book he had read as a young man: the Bi­ble.’

This didn’t come as a sur­prise to me: I know Michael Gove quite well, and though he doesn’t talk about his re­li­gious be­liefs, I be­came aware of his habit of drop­ping into churches (of vary­ing de­nom­i­na­tions) to pray. Along with Jeremy Hunt, he is one of the can­di­dates for the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship with the strong­est sense of moral pur­pose. (Hunt has been a par­tic­u­larly ac­tive con­trib­u­tor to char­i­ta­ble causes, but, again, is re­luc­tant to dis­cuss this, or his re­li­gious be­liefs, pub­licly).


There is no doubt that it was a fierce moral pur­pose which drove Michael Gove’s highly suc­cess­ful re­forms of the exam sys­tem. He had a gen­uine sense of mis­sion to im­prove the ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards of­fered to the least well- off, who did not come from fam­i­lies which could af­ford pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion.

The fact that even those that can af­ford it are now in­creas­ingly send­ing their chil­dren to state schools in­stead is a fur­ther proof of his mis­sion’s suc­cess.

Of course it is not nec­es­sary to be re­li­gious, let alone a Chris­tian, to have such a drive. But it is in­ter­est­ing to con­trast that with the heavy favourite for the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship, Boris John­son. As his erst­while mis­tress, Petronella Wy­att, put it a few years ago in a su­perbly writ­ten — and en­tirely warm — ar­ti­cle about him: ‘Boris is a pa­gan . . . His views on mat­ters such as monogamy are de­cid­edly East­ern. “I find it gen­uinely un­rea­son­able that men should be con­fined to one woman,” he has grum­bled to me, and can­not un­der­stand the me­dia’s re­ac­tion to his per­sonal af­fairs.’

It is com­monly as­serted that it was be­cause of his re­la­tion­ship with Wy­att that John­son was sacked in 2004 as shadow arts min­is­ter and vice-chair­man of the party by the then Con­ser­va­tive leader Michael Howard.

This is not the whole truth: it was the fact that John­son had lied about it to Howard — and to the Press. When a news­pa­per had got wind of the fact that John­son, then the fa­ther of four young chil­dren, had been con­duct­ing an af­fair with Wy­att (and had paid for a re­sul­tant abor­tion), he dis­missed the claims — with char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally imag­i­na­tive brio — as ‘an in­verted pyramid of pif­fle’.

Howard had backed him up based on that as­sur­ance. so when an­other news­pa­per sub­stan­ti­ated the first one’s story — mak­ing the party leader look like a dupe — John­son was sacked.

That was 15 years ago, and we can now see how wide of the mark was the wide­spread opinion at the time — both on the Con­ser­va­tive par­lia­men­tary benches and among po­lit­i­cal pun­dits — that Boris John­son’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer was best de­scribed in the past tense.


As I have writ­ten in the Mail on sev­eral oc­ca­sions over re­cent years, John­son’s ca­pac­ity to sur­vive per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal con­duct that would an­ni­hi­late any other politi­cian is a gen­uine phe­nom­e­non, how­ever much it ex­as­per­ates both his ri­vals and for­mer jour­nal­is­tic col­leagues with a more jaun­diced view of his char­ac­ter.

He un­der­stands the de­sire of the pub­lic to have a laugh, and uses this bril­liantly as chaff to de­flect any moral ar­gu­ment, or even, at times, the truth.

Thus, when he was asked whether he had ever used co­caine, he re­sponded: ‘I think I was once given co­caine, but I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose.

‘In fact, I may have been do­ing ic­ing sugar.’ This was gen­uinely funny, while at the same time re­veal­ing that John­son did not con­sider it a moral is­sue at all.

It may be, in any case, that the great ma­jor­ity of vot­ers are not much ex­er­cised about whether politi­cians, in the years be­fore they got the job of leg­is­la­tors and thus power over our own lives, took il­licit drugs. That may well also be true of mem­bers of the Con­ser­va­tive party — soon to choose their new leader — who tend to be prac­ti­cal men and women fully ac­quainted with the world as it is.

No, what vot­ers find it hard­est to for­give is when politi­cians lie to them, di­rectly. Then, it is no longer a mat­ter just for the fam­i­lies of the leg­is­la­tor in ques­tion, but a per­sonal af­front to the elec­tors them­selves.

Michael Gove is not guilty of that; and he is, ac­tu­ally, a good man.

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