From saboteur to ‘levelling up’ chief, Boris Johnson keeps Michael Gove close

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (Dominic Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

Boris Johnson wants to keep his allies close and Michael Gove even closer.

Seeing him as a man who can get a tough job done, the Prime Minister has tasked his one-time saboteur with taking on responsibility for his flagship “levelling up” agenda.

All that while tackling the housing crisis and pushing through planning reforms that are a highly contentious point among Tory backbenchers.

Having been in charge of multiple thorny issues surrounding Brexit at the Cabinet Office, he has now become Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government.

Downing Street said he would also retain responsibility for the Union, another major role with Nicola Sturgeon fighting for Scottish independence.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove arrives in Downing Street, London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove arrives in Downing Street, London (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

All this would have seemed inconceivable five years ago when the Scotsman crushed Mr Johnson’s bid to challenge Theresa May for Conservative Party leadership.

Having been an ally of the Vote Leave campaign ahead of the Brexit referendum, Mr Gove sensationally quit as Mr Johnson’s campaign leader in 2016 and positioned to stand against him.

The drastic move put himself on a collision course with Mr Johnson and effectively forced him to pull out.

Born Graeme Logan, he spent his first few months in care before being adopted by Ernest and Christine Gove and raised in Aberdeen.

The Oxford university graduate took up a career in journalism with the BBC and The Times before becoming an MP in 2005.

Five years later he became education secretary, but during a combative and controversial period he was demoted to chief whip in 2014.

Demonstrating his resilience, he managed to re-brand himself in the role of justice secretary as being a liberal progressive, before becoming environment secretary in 2017.

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove during the referendum campaign (Andrew Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove during the referendum campaign (Andrew Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

Mr Gove further proved his political staying power after the newly-crowned Mr Johnson gave him the role of chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tasked with preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

That came despite Mr Gove’s admissions of regular cocaine use two decades earlier dominated hustings and media appearances and scuppered his own leadership bid in 2019.

After months of wrangling, Mr Gove managed to negotiate with the European Union a mechanism to implement the Withdrawal Agreement.

But with many issues surrounding that deal remaining in relation to Northern Ireland, the long term wisdom of that remains unclear.

Having played a key role in the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Gove announced his split from his journalist wife Sarah Vine in July after nearly two decades of marriage.

Despite the years of turbulence, he remains a colleague who Mr Johnson very much wants to keep close and has tasked him with being responsible for the success or failure of the Government’s post-Covid agenda.

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