5 Jun 2014 at 17:41
Whoever leaked a private letter from Theresa May to Michael Gove really should be hung out to dry. But I doubt whether they will. I find it hard to believe that someone as politically sure footed and ambitious as May would have signed off such a politically damaging stunt. And in the middle of the most crucial by election the Tories have faced in years.
Whitehall is littered with letters memos and emails with turf wars between departments. What makes the May letter worryingly unique is that it is from Secretary of State to Secretary of State. It would be interesting to see what has passed between officials over the last few months. Even more worrying is that it is alleged that a spin doctor close to May has been briefing the press about other failings in the DFE, particularly concerning the safety of children.
This is a rare skirmish compared to the open warfare in the Blair administration, but it does give an interesting insight into the tensions amongst cabinet colleagues. It does suggest that relations between DFE and the Home Office are not just strained but broken. To be fair, although Gove and May are hardly likely to be off to see the football together after a couple of pints at the Dog and Duck, when two departments are at loggerheads it is the job of officials to clear lines and smooth things over. Jeremy Haywood is going to have to crack the whip. The added complication is that said spin doctor is said to be in a relationship with an official tipped to be the next perm sec at the Home Office. This may cause the poor fellow, who appears to be a complete professional, a few problems.
And what of David Cameron? May is not exactly a card carrying Cameroon but is a superb Home Secretary. Gove, who is a close personal and loyal friend of the PM is an excellent although quirky Secretary of State. And his hands are not sparkling white in this matter. Cameron will have to have the wisdom of Solomon to sort this one out.
But let’s put it into into perspective. This is a Westminster bubble story. The general public don’t give a damn. It is a minor irritation which is at worst embarrassing. Miliband as a Brown crony is not in the strongest position to throw mud. Tomorrow it will be wiped off the front pages by whatever happens at Newark. It will probably get a bit of a rumble in the Sundays, but advisors must take a vow of silence;no briefings, no leaks on pain of dismissal. But the press will be doing an awful lot of digging. This is a story that must not be given legs. Anyhow the reshuffle will bury it for the time being.
Well at least Gove and May are now singing from the same hymn sheet even if they still worship in different churches. There will be lots of nonsense speculation about leadership bids, whose ahead and whose behind. But their isn’t a vacancy. Nor is there likely to be this side of the election. Some backbenchers may have to grit their teeth but Cameron is by far the best bet if they want to hold on to their seats.
So let me have a punt at what will happen. A leak inquiry which will be inconclusive. Gove will eat a slice of humble pie mainly because he is Cameron’s chum. May will be spared any sort of humiliation but will not be happy. Whoever thought they were doing her a good turn must realise that they have made a foolish mistake which rather unfairly puts the Home Secretary in an uncomfortable place. Oh, and everyone will say that lessons have been learned, which of course they haven’t. Stephen Parkinson her highly regarded Special Advisor is going to have to put his shit kicking boots on.