Like Michael Heseltine before him, Michael Gove has a rare feel for the the Conservative Party's erogenous zone. His robust defence of free expression at the Leveson inquiry and his continuing schools revolution have seen the Education Secretary's stock soar among Tory MPs and conservative journalists. As David Blackburn notes at Coffee House, he is increasingly spoken of as a future party leader.
On last night's edition of This Week, Michael Portillo described Gove as a "serious candidate for the future", adding that "He knows what he is about, he knows what he wants and these are things that people crave."
Elsewhere, in today's Daily Mail, ConservativeHome editor Tim Montgomerie (whom I profiled earlier this year for the NS), writes that "One day, some time in the future, this brave politician might well be the kind of leader that the Conservative Party chooses and the nation craves." A ConHome poll earlier this year found that he was the third most-popular choice (after William Hague and Boris Johnson) to take over from Cameron.
Against all this, however, one must set Gove's insistence that he neither wants the job nor deserves it. In a recent interview with Iain Martin in Standpoint magazine, he remarked:
I'm constitutionally incapable of it. There's a special extra quality you need that is indefinable, and I know I don't have it. There's an equanimity, an impermeability and a courage that you need. There are some things in life you know it's better not to try.
Those are not the words of a man who is merely hedging his bets. Gove did not say "we already have a very good leader" or that he had "no plans" to stand, he said he was "constitutionally incapable" of doing the job. It is hard to see him reversing that judgement.