I forgive you. I forgive you for that thing you promised you would do and didn’t. I forgive you for the night you drank too much and said too much. I forgive you for the embarrassing thing you did when you were 20. And most of all, I forgive you for being young.

Now, could you do the same for me? Could you forgive me for being selfish when my friend needed help? Could you forgive me for getting drunk and being stupid and thoughtless (and for stealing that guy’s shoes)? And could you forgive me for voting Conservative?

I bring all this up not because I’m in a particularly forgiving mood but because I’ve been reading about Michael Gove and the things he’s reported to have said when he was at university. The Independent told us, with studied gravity, that Mr Gove made crude sexual comments and used a racial slur while he was speaking in debates at the Cambridge Union. The remarks were reportedly met with cheers, stunned laughter, and shouts of “shame”.

I realise your reaction may not be the same as mine. You may say that being young is no excuse for making crude sexual remarks, using racial slurs, or – ugh – speaking at debates at the Cambridge Union. You may also point out that Mr Gove doesn’t appear to have learned his lesson and the unpleasant young Tory grew up to be an unpleasant older Tory. All of this is fair enough.

But may I say something? May I say that we should always cut the young some slack? Some of us get better, some of us have always been good. But I’m almost certain that, like me, there will be things you said or did, or didn’t say or do, a long time ago that you’re embarrassed about or even ashamed of. And if you can forgive yourself for those, you should forgive Michael Gove too and refrain from pointing a finger at the past.

Let me give you some context. I went to school with Gove. He was a couple of years above me and, although our paths rarely crossed, I remember him showing off to us young ones in the corridor once. I also remember watching him in debates and one of our teachers saying at the time that, one day, that precocious young Gove would become Prime Minister (a prediction that has, as yet, proven untrue).

I tell you this because Michael – like me, like you – is a product of childhood. In his case, he grew up in a grey building in a grey city under a grey sky, and so did I. We both went to a private school run in an unpleasant, old-fashioned, quasi-militaristic way. We both spent our formative years in a deeply conservative place with deeply conservative values. It’s not the kind of background that produces iconoclasts (or good dancers). But it is the kind of background that can produce people like Michael Gove.

All I’m saying is that every man is just a boy with years added on and that if you’re going to judge Michael Gove, judge him not on what he said and did 30 years ago but what he says and does now (I realise, of course, that your judgement may still be harsh). I also recommend that you ignore Wendy Chamberlain, spokesperson for Lib Dems, who said the PM should be considering whether Mr Gove is the kind of person that deserves to be sat round the cabinet table. She also said Mr Gove should be ashamed “that he ever thought these things, let alone said them”.

I wonder, though, if that’s really the right approach, even in this age of judgement. So let me end by telling you about an episode of Star Trek that was on telly the other night because there’s pretty much no moral problem that hasn’t been tackled by Star Trek at some point. One of the crew beamed down to a planet where it wasn’t just a crime to do a bad thing, it was a crime to think it and quite rightly, she pointed out this was an outrageous way to do things. Judge me on what I do, she said, not on what I think. But she might also have said this: judge me on who I am, not on who I used to be.

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