Toby Young

Why Gove’s night on the dance floor is good news

Why Gove’s night on the dance floor is good news
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I was pleased to see pictures of Michael Gove at a nightclub in Aberdeen last weekend. According to press reports, he barrelled into a pub in the city centre at around 1.15 a.m. on Sunday, and when last orders were called he was persuaded by fellow revellers to accompany them to a nightclub called Pipe, where he spent the next hour dancing energetically to loud music.

‘I am almost sure he was by himself,’ said Emma Lament, a singer who had performed an acoustic set earlier in the pub and revealed a ‘merry’ Mr Gove had ‘rocked up’ before closing time. ‘He really was enjoying himself. I don’t think he left the dance floor the whole time I was there.’

Some prudes have tut-tutted that this isn’t an ‘appropriate’ way for the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to behave, but why ever not? The newly single MP is perfectly entitled to go clubbing from time to time, particularly when visiting his home town on an August bank holiday weekend. So what if he was ‘merry’? I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve ended up at some dodgy watering hole to carry on drinking after the pubs have closed. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Another reason to welcome this behaviour is that it suggests Gove has changed his mind about the need for nightclubs, bars and restaurants to introduce vaccine passports. Scotland, after all, is experiencing a record number of coronavirus cases following the reopening of schools a few weeks ago, yet the minister was perfectly happy to visit several hospitality venues in Aberdeen without having to certify his Covid status. The implication of Gove’s night of revelry is that, like many of us, he’s decided to say good riddance to the restrictions that have been crippling the economy and wreaking havoc with people’s mental health and learned to live with the virus. The pictures of him posing for selfies, arm in arm with total strangers, his face and shirt pouring with sweat, were particularly refreshing.

Admittedly, the influential cabinet minister may not have intended to send a message that it’s time to get back to normal. This was a night out in Aberdeen, after all, not a Downing Street press conference. But the fact that he let his hair down in this way will make it harder for him to resume his position as the government’s finger--wagger-in-chief when it comes to restrictions on our freedoms.

It’s widely predicted that cases in England will start to surge as a result of our schools reopening — and will accelerate even more when university students go back — and no doubt the usual chorus of scientific advisers, public health panjandrums and NHS bosses will be clamouring for another lockdown. Before this, they could have counted on Gove as their closest cabinet ally. Now they may have to look elsewhere. For the minister to call for vaccine passports and other containment measures in England when he didn’t modify his behaviour in response to a case surge in Scotland will leave him vulnerable to the charge he cares more about protecting lives in England than in Scotland.

I should confess that I’ve known Michael for about 35 years, having first met him when he was a fresher at Lady Margaret Hall, and spent a fair few evenings with him, knocking back red wine and trying to make each other laugh. His enthusiasm for urban dance music comes as no surprise — he once entertained dinner party guests at my house by extemporising a rap song about my efforts to set up England’s first free school.

No doubt some Tory haters will cringe when trying to picture this, just as they expressed revulsion at seeing Michael enjoying himself on the dance floor. But I would defy any of these sneerers not to laugh when Gove is in full flow. In private, the honourable member for Surrey Heath is very funny. Indeed, I’ve often thought his gifts as an improv comic are one of the reasons he has been at the heart of government for the past 11 years. Prime ministers must enjoy having such a brilliant entertainer at the top table, particularly as most senior politicians are so dull.

One of the hardest things for me about the past 18 months has been seeing Michael become such an authoritarian scold, because it’s so at odds with the seditious, gossipy, freedom--loving man I’ve known for most of my life. And that’s the biggest reason I was so pleased to see him dancing up a storm in Aberdeen. Welcome back, Michael. I’ve missed you.