If further evidence was needed of why Michael Gove was moved from Education, today’s Ipsos MORI poll provides it. It shows that he is the least popular senior politician in the country, with a net likeability rating of -32, compared to -24 for George Osborne, -22 for Ed Miliband, -16 for Nigel Farage, -11 for Nick Clegg, -6 for David Cameron, +5 for Theresa May and +35 for Boris Johnson. As I write in my column in tomorrow’s New Statesman, it was subterranean ratings like this that meant the coalition’s Robespierre couldn’t survive Cameron’s Great Terror.
Had Gove merely been made Chief Whip, a traditionally private role, the move would have been an entirely logical one. But as Cameron said yesterday, the former Education Secretary will also have “an enhanced role in campaigning and doing broadcast media interviews”.
There are some in Westminster who are suggesting that this was merely spin designed to dispel the (accurate) impression that he had been demoted. But in his column in today’s Evening Standard (which carries the MORI poll), Matthew d’Ancona, the chronicler of the Cameroons, writes that Gove will be “Chief Whip to the nation: the gentle persuader and kindly polemicist who will explain why we should all vote Tory.”
No one doubts Gove’s rhetorical and intellectual firepower, but the question remains why the man chosen to detoxify the Conservative brand is one who so badly needs to detoxify his own. In previous election campaigns, unpopular or gaffe-prone Tory politicians have been wisely hidden from the view. Based on his ratings, some will ask why Gove isn’t receiving the same treatment.