Tory leadership: Behind the stages of Johnson-Gove drama – BBC News

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Image caption Michael Gove and Boris Johnson: A Shakespearian misfortune?

The analogies to a Shakespearian tragedy have become a clich, so evident are the latitudes with Caesar, Macbeth, and more profoundly Coriolanus.

But it has perhaps been more like Pinter than Shakespeare.

The menacing stillness, the bully over polite exchanges, the brutal quest for predominance as self-confidence ducts from one guy to another.

So here is a cut-out-and-keep guide for any budding dramatist on what we know and what I’ve found out.


The day of the referendum.

I’m told Michael Gove and Boris Johnson go to bed with simply one addres readied – to acknowledge defeat.


04:45 BST

A mobile phone rings in the Gove household.

His wife, Sarah Vine – as she explained in her Daily Mail tower – hears her husband’s phone make off.

Then this exchange.

“Michael, guess what? We’ve triumphed! “


She wrote in her line: “Given Michael’s high-profile capacity in the Leave campaign, that necessitates he – we – are now charged with implementing the instructions of 17 million people.

“And that is an awesome responsibility.”

As the mobile phones go mad: “‘You were simply supposed to blow the bloody entrances off, ‘ I said, in my best good( ie not the best) Michael Caine Italian Job accent.

“In other words, you’ve certainly lacerated it now.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption No chortling affair: Sarah Vine did her better Michael Caine accent

The tear dilates as David Cameron resigns.

Boris Johnson was at home with a small squad, watching the prime minister abdicate live their lives Tv.

Victory, one insider said, was the moment everything there is went wrong.

Another told me Boris felt he was gazing down both casks of a grease-gun. He had rather a neat life – did he really want to be PM?

Watching the prime minister resign, Team Boris imagine Gove, who’d been talking to Chancellor George Osborne, might come on board.

Then pretty much public silence from “the mens” who hoped to be prime minister.


Cut to a close-up of the thwack of willow on leather – Boris at the wicket of a preferably luxury, rather fairly, cricket match.

Then an apparently quite amusing barbecue at his country house.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Boris Johnson played cricket the day after the referendum outcome was announced

Michael Gove connects him – and says that together they were the dreaming team. He was promised he’d become chancellor and be in charge of Brexit mediations.

But had the Tory establishment ended, as one insider told me, they did not want another Old Etonian – another face from that Bullingdon Club photo – as their commander in an anti-elitist age?

Did someone urge Gove to sign up with the intention of doing the indecent event?



Please , no clichs of the revolving presses.

However, Boris Johnson’s Daily Telegraph line is the next scene.

“It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by nervousness about migration, ” he writes.

“I do not believe that is so … British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to excursion; to study; to buy homes; and to settle down.”

Was this the turning point? Too soft, more un-Brexity, for Michael Gove?

Hardly. He had sent an email at 18:00 BST on Sunday advocating only minor changes and describing him as “very, very good.”

17:00 BST

Gove is shown the spreadsheet of MPs substantiating Boris.

One source told me that early in a leader poll all that matters is figures. You need to pull in the left, the claim, young, old-fashioned, Leave, Remain.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Johnson and Mr Gove launched a crew HQ near London’s Victoria station



A meeting at the Park Lane roles of the Australian super-strategist Sir Lynton Crosby.

Team Boris are surprised by the look of Gove’s youthful eminence grise, Dominic Cummings. His exclusion has already been challenged.

Then comes the first public hint of unease.

An e-mail from Vine to her husband Gove meets its room to journalists.

“One simple letter: you MUST have SPECIFIC self-confidences from Boris OTHERWISE you cannot pledge your foundation, ” it says.

She tells him: “Do not confess any grounds. Be your tenacious best.”

Adding: “The details can be worked out later on, but without that you have no leverage.

“Crucially, the membership will not have the necessary reassurance to back Boris, neither will Dacre/ Murdoch[ the writer of the Daily Mail and News International boss respectively ], who instinctively detest Boris but trust your ability enough to support a Boris/ Gove ticket.”

Speaking in London, Rupert Murdoch says he’d be “happy for Michael Gove to get it” and describes him as “the most principled and most able” candidate available.

18:00 BST

Team Boris say they have 63 MPs solidly backing them.



The critical daylight.

10 Greycoat Place, near London’s Victoria station, is established as the Johnson/ Gove HQ.

18:00 BST

Team Boris report they have 97 MPs “locked in solid”.

19:00 BST

Boris goes to a Republican MPs’ party at Westminster.

There are suggestions from Gove’s side that Boris bloopers this and assist is draining away.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Did Michael Gove hint Andrea Leadsom as deputy premier?

In particular they claim he forgets a note predicting rising star Andrea Leadsom she can become chancellor as rate for her support.

Team Boris say this is nonsense, and Gove had already been promised this errand.

Team Gove say she could have had deputy prime minister. But for them it crystallises something.

Gove begins to think Boris is too cavalier and unfocused – an unguided missile.

20:00 BST

Boris assembles Gove and the council of ministers at a party at the Hurlingham Club.

Was it the background of more plot? Do we hear Michael Gove glad-handing, plotting, improving approval?

Is he being lobbied? Or does he seem a distracted, lonely illustration? The “ministers ” is there. Do they talk?

I’m told by an eyewitness at another party – held during the referendum – that Sarah Vine went up to the prime minister and said: “Are we OK? ”

He apparently hissed: “If you exactly get your partner off the telly, we’ll be fine.”

My source said: “Everyone precisely rocked back – it was quite public.”

22:00 BST

Boris leaves with a key are part of Team Gove to write his speech – the most of important of their own lives.

His pitch to become prime minister.

Around midnight

The Team Gove member takes a series of telephone call. He then makes his excuses and leaves.

Gove tries to speak to George Osborne, but can’t get through.


08:00 BST

Dominic Raab has written in the Sun, backing Boris for PM.

He says the former London mayor has got the “‘Heineken effect’, that freshens the parts that more conventional politicians cannot reach”.

But he cancels a planned interview on the Today programme.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Did MPs lose their taste for Boris Johnson’s so-called Heineken effect?

08:00 BST

Gove formally tells his unit he is going to run.

08:35 BST

The team at Greycoat Place get a announcement from a writer telling them Gove is rushing ship.

“Rubbish, ” they tell her.

08:40 BST

They listen in fright as Sir Lynton Crosby takes a announce from Gove, telling him he’s leading.

“I felt kicked in the belly, it’s nasty material. Gove is deeply ambitious and he was persuasion he didn’t necessity Boris. It could be him. It was all about supremacy, ” says one insider.

11:25 BST

Moments before Boris is about to go on stage, his small team decides he can’t run.

11:50 BST

Boris Johnson announces he will not stand for the Tory leadership.


Team Boris are beside themselves with craze.

One sends a text message to the Sun’s political editor Tom Newton Dunn.

It describes Gove in colourful usage, adding that he had “set this up from start”.

“This is going to be bloody, ” it adds.

Another emails of Gove: “He is actually Theon Greyjoy, or is likely to be by the time I am finished with him.”

If you don’t follow Game of Thrones – that political drama with added dragons – Theon is tortured, castrated, and tortured again, until he is barely human.

Image copyright PA/ HBO
Image caption Michael Gove was described by one Boris aide as like Games of Thrones’ Theon Greyjoy

Politics reaches such good drama because it is about the lust for dominance, driving desire, the remaining balance between disbelief and belief.

It is about when to impress – brutal and speedy – and when to bide the hand.

But it is also about temperament, about an inner life and inner disbelieves that haunt us all.

It is about self-confidence and the need for love.

Never more so than in this drama.

Need to be loved

Many feel it was about Boris’s need to be loved that drove him to Brexit as much as aspiration.

His team were clearly delighted that extending taxi drivers screamed “Oi, Boris” with amused admiration.

But he didn’t like the abuse he was now going tripping around London after the referendum.

His calculation had likely been that he would be applauded by the crowd; cherished by the party as a good loser who have decided the side “whos lost”; in pole position for a big errand in David Cameron’s next locker – and then perhaps an even more significant one.

He perhaps hadn’t imagined through whether he was really up for it – or up to it.

He was never truly clubbable, never a House of Commons humanity, nurturing affections.

Like the Earl of Essex he “veil his bonnet to an oyster partner, and with a kind of humble conge( bow) respond, the rude style that did admire his life”( anon ).

Essex more forgot the establishment – the Palace, the Court – carried the ability of execution.

Image caption A Shakespearian tragedy, with parallels with Macbeth and Julius Caesar

Johnson’s camp shows Gove as the eventual Machiavellian villain, driven by an ambitious partner and adviser, scheming from inside to destroy one close ally and then another, clambering the greasy pole with the hand grasps of disloyalty and betrayal.

They say that is absurd, because Gove was always the anchor, and it was always trade negotiations, a deal – simply one that didn’t came by.

Perhaps Gove would prefer a softer version of sellout, with him as Shakespeare’s Prince Hal, shaking off Falstaff and his amusing but eventually childish lanes as he thrived to power.

It was all too hasty, envisions one insider, in anguish not anger – they were all pushed over the edge by the rate of events.

But don’t misstep the savagery. There will be another number. I am told: “This isn’t over. Gove did involve Boris. And Boris hasn’t spoken yet.”

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