AT the age of 53, Michael Gove has just enough time left on the career clock to consider a job outside politics. After his performance on the Sunday shows, it might be a good idea to steer clear of marriage counselling, resolving industrial disputes, or any occupation that requires the pouring of oil on troubled waters.

As we say in his home country of Scotland, the Cabinet Office Minister could start a fight in an empty house. But after a fractious week in politics, was it a lover or a fighter who was required on the Sunday shows?

On The Andrew Marr Show the host began by noting that Manchester was saying “no” to London on further coronavirus restrictions; Wales wanted to close its border to people from Covid-19 hotspots; and polls were showing a greater desire for Scottish independence (58%).

“London’s authority has always been based on the rest of the country saying yes,” said Marr. “But what on Earth happens when people start saying no?”

That was the question to which everyone wanted clear answers from Mr Gove. Not an easy job, as any interviewer will attest. If an occasion requires a Minister to erect a wall of words cemented by bluster and topped by apparent civility, the cry of “get Gove” goes up.

Sophy Ridge was first to try her luck and skill. Would he impose tougher, tier three restrictions on Manchester? “I want to reach an agreement with the political leadership in Greater Manchester,” he said.

So far, so conciliatory. Then he added: “I want them to put aside for a moment some of the political positioning that they’ve indulged in and I want them to work with us in order to ensure that we save lives and protect the NHS. Instead of press conferences and posturing what we need is action to save people’s lives.”

As for Labour’s insistence on a short, national, “circuit-breaker” lockdown to control the coronavirus resurgence, the answer was no. “It would seem an error to try to impose on every part of the country the same level of restriction when we know that the disease is spreading more intensively and quicker in some parts of the country,” he said.

Having used the stick against Manchester, Mr Gove then picked up the carrot. Somewhat surprisingly, he enlisted Scotland’s First Minister on his side.

“Where you’ve got political leaders with whom I might disagree, like Nicola Sturgeon or Mark Drakeford [FM of Wales], who appreciate the pressure on the NHS, they’re doing everything they can to ensure that the rules are enforced.

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“Nicola recognises in Scotland that you need slightly different rules in Glasgow than you do in the Highlands. But she also has worked with us to provide an economic support package.”

Last week, Ridge on Sunday had the woman of the moment, Nicola Sturgeon, on the show. Her attacks on former FM Alex Salmond made the front pages next day. This Sunday it was Marr’s turn for the man of the hour, in this case Andy Burnham, Labour mayor of Greater Manchester.

Mr Burnham was booked in the post-weather slot. A chilly week ahead was the forecast. Marr said it could not be that cold because the mayor was standing in his garden in Manchester in shirt sleeves. As the Scot should know, they breed them hard in the north.

(On the subject of sartorial choices, it might not have helped Gove-Burnham diplomatic relations for the Mail on Sunday’s Sarah Vine (aka Mrs Gove) to wonder why the mayor went jacket and tie-less. “He obviously thinks it makes him seem cool, but in fact he just looks like a pound-shop Noel Gallagher,” she wrote.)

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Having said he wanted to step back from the “war of words”, Mr Burnham had a few choice phrases of his own for those tier one Tory MPs who had written an “I’m all right, Jack,” letter urging him to back the tougher restrictions. This was not just a Greater Manchester fight, he said. “Anywhere could end up in tier three this winter.”

On Marr, Mr Gove was asked again if he would impose restrictions on Manchester. “I hope that we can find a way through together,” was as far as he would go. He topped this off by accusing Mr Burnham and Labour of shifting their position from one day to the next.

Marr had been trying for some time to scale the Gove wall of words, and each time he neared the top another layer of bricks were added.

“I’m sorry,” he said, finally hurling himself into the conversation. “I have to ask occasional questions. That’s kind of the way it works.”

Another Minister might have paused at the telling off. Not this one. “And I have to give comprehensive answers,” Mr Gove shot back before proceeding on another long answer.

After the dust had settled on the Sunday shows it was confirmed that Mr Burnham would be having talks with London – but with the PM’s chief strategic adviser, Sir Edward Lister, not Mr Gove. The Minister had done his talking for the day.


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