In years to come, the message sent to leading Brexiteer, Michael Gove, by his wife, Sarah Vine, may become to be known as the ‘Lady Macbeth email’. It reveals how ‘we’, Gove and his wife, discussed, in the Independent’s word, ‘how to manipulate their support’.
But rather than a short, rather bossy email, peppered with CAPITALS, Shakespeare would have been more eloquent:
‘Justice thou art, and Leaver, and shalt be
What we have desired. List, then, to my words:
Focus thou on individual obstacles and by opposing, overcome them.
One simple message: seek assurances from him who would be king –
Or, if he will not, say you cannot lend your support.
Without these declarations, your leverage will be less.
Keep this to the foremost of your most excellent mind:
Only your benefaction would reassure the party;
Only your patronage would persuade the opinion formers -
The Thanes of Dacre and Murdoch – to back a bid by Boris and Gove.
Concede not one inch of ground. Do thou thy most stubborn best.’
That was yesterday. Today, Boris Johnson has left the field. Michael Gove, in guise of reluctant leader, has entered the leadership fray. Recent events have laid heavy upon him, his announcement says, but he’s concluded his fellow Leave campaigner, Boris Johnson, has neither leadership nor teambuilding talent (something which Gove seemingly didn't notice when he accompanied Boris in the Brexit battle bus). He will heal division, he claims, with his plans for unity and change.
But there’s a looming shadow behind Michael Gove despite his statesmanlike rhetoric: his legacy at the Department for Education. Launching his leadership bid, he says he wants to bring change. At education he did bring change – a battering ram of policies intended to demolish opposition, however well-argued. Education reform was pushed through by a man who wanted his own way. Gove did not unite – he divided. He did not bring, nor did he desire, consensus. Gove was not a man to compromise.
Such an approach may not work with EU negotiators.
The DfE under Gove’s tenure had a slippery relationship with the truth. Education reform was based on propaganda and dishonesty: faulty data, twisted statistics, cherry-picked ‘evidence’.
In the years ahead, the United Kingdom will need strong but fair leadership. It will need someone who can negotiate, not one who calls his opponents ‘enemies of promise’ or who labels hitherto respected organisations as ‘Nazis’ because they didn’t agree with him. It will need someone who can be relied upon to speak truly, not one who ignored warnings not to use faulty data or who, according to David Laws, gave two different government departments different sets of figures to placate them. It will be someone who can be conciliatory and develop constructive relationships, not someone who sees the world as black and white divided between those who agree with him and those who do not.
Above all, what the UK does not need is a Macbeth with his unelected Lady goading him from behind.