Michael Gove pitched up on Newsnight yesterday to give one of his typically confident performances to the programme. Apparently CCHQ don't believe any floating voters watch the BBC's flagging current affairs show. The Chief Whip was removed from his previous role as Education Secretary because of poor poll ratings with floating voters, and senior Tories involved in that move were keen that he only be unleashed in controlled circumstances, despite being dubbed one of the new ‘ministers for broadcast’.
So Gove wasn’t there to persuade wavering mothers in Bolton, but he was trying to persuade those who were watching that the Tories remain confident they can win a majority in May. He even appeared to deny that his party is making plans for a hung parliament. But it’s worth noting exactly what Gove said about preparations for another coalition. Here’s the transcript:
Evan Davis: There are different ways David Cameron could be Prime Minister… Are you planning for some of those different outcomes?
Michael Gove: No. There are lots of choices that people can make at this election but ultimately every choice other than voting Conservative risks the chaos and instability of either Labour or some form of rainbow coalition or lethal cocktail of parties… If you want stability… then David Cameron and the Conservatives can provide that stability.
ED: You just misspoke I think, I said are you preparing for any other contingencies and you said no, and I can’t believe you’re not?
MG: No. I’m not.
ED: I can’t believe that behind the scenes the Conservative party isn’t thinking about what a negotiation might look like?
ED: That is like the weather forecasters are saying there’s a 90 per cent chance of rain and you’re resolutely refusing to go out with an umbrella because you don’t think it’s going to be suiting you to do so.
MG: Because the most important thing between now and the general election is to talk to the British people, not to anticipate what might happen afterwards. We’ll deal with that situation as and when it arises.
ED: But at the last election you had documents and thoughts about what you were going to talk to the Lib Dems about, it would be strange if you didn’t do it this time?
MG: There were one or two members of our team that did do that, but on this occasion I’m convinced that… the Conservatives will win a majority.
Note that Gove specifically replied with ‘I’m not’ and said that the ‘most important priority’ is the general election campaign. This leaves the door open to other Tories having discussions, like the ‘one or two people’ he mentioned who sounded out the Liberal Democrats in 2010. It would be odd if Gove were involved in those discussions given his famously poor relations with Nick Clegg.
In fact, at the last election, the Conservatives left any preparation for a coalition pretty late, especially in comparison with the Lib Dems, who by late 2009 had put together a team of four MPs – Danny Alexander, Chris Huhne, David Laws and Andrew Stunell – to plan for talks. This time round, the Conservatives won't let themselves make the same mistakes they made when forming the current Coalition. And that will mean that even if Michael Gove has nothing to do with it, someone will be working very hard indeed on what to do if - as most expect - there is another hung Parliament in May.