HE’S had an up and down year – promoted by Boris Johnson to a sweeping new job fixing Britain’s woes, but also undergoing a painful divorce.
As Michael Gove dusts himself down from a rocky summer, he tells HOAR: “If anyone who happened to be in the public eye believed every rumour circulated about them, they would go mad.”
As the new Levelling Up Secretary of State, with a powerful Whitehall base, Gove, 54, is back at the very top of the Cabinet.
Yet he has also been blighted by painful speculation about his private life, fuelled by the eyebrow-raising video of him throwing shapes in an Aberdeen nightclub in August.
While admitting that more than a decade at the front line of Westminster has taken its toll, he says he has to laugh off the worst aspects of working under the intense public scrutiny.
He says: “The truth is that having good friends, and people who know me and my family, means that you can just shrug your shoulders and sometimes even laugh at what some people want to say.”
And opening up for the first time since he announced he had separated from writer Sarah Vine, 54, his wife of 20 years, he tells HOAR: “Politics is tough for the families of politicians.
“We’re the people who make the choice to go into politics and our families are the people who have to live with it.”
Sitting beneath a portrait of the Queen in his vast new office, he insists he is not going to be knocked off his stride.
“My friends know me, so they know what is true and what is not and that is fine,” he says.
Last month’s Cabinet reshuffle marked an astonishing political bounce back for Gove.
In ten years he has gone from the reforming and revolutionary Education Secretary — who David Cameron made the fatal mistake of sacking in a bid to placate the public sector — to one of the key architects of the 2016 Brexit vote.
But it was his betrayal of Boris Johnson’s leadership bid in the aftermath of that historic Leave vote that saw him booted out of the Cabinet, only to return to junior positions.
Now he is back, and the man he once “knifed in the front” has given him a “do or die” mission to end Britain’s North/South divide.
Cynics will say it is an in-tray designed to break a foe, but Downing Street insists the great reformer is needed for his most important job yet — getting the country firing again after the pandemic.
Insisting the Covid crisis “has put extra fuel in our tank when it comes to dealing with some of the inequalities of opportunity” facing the country, he revels in the task ahead.
“I feel every day that I have a duty for all of those people who voted to leave to show that their lives are going to be better,” he says.
“And I know that absolutely drives Boris, and that is the mission that he’s given me.”
Gove is now in charge of saving the Union from Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP; fixing Britain’s chronic shortage of housing; keeping Town Halls afloat, with the punishing costs of social care; as well as race relations, religious matters and the PM’s flagship — if confusing — promise to Level Up the country.
What does it even mean?
Gove explains: “If you have a football team where only half the players are match fit, if you send athletes to the Olympics and only half of Team GB has been through its training, you won’t get the medal haul, you won’t make the final.
“And in the same way, if we have parts of the country that don’t have the secret sauce that promotes growth, the skills, the enterprise, the focus and the strong local leadership, then they won’t achieve everything.
“If you do have that, then you have not just a better life for more people but a stronger economy.”
Vowing to bring higher wages, lower crime and better schools and hospitals, Gove says the mission begins with sprucing up Britain’s worn-down high streets and divided communities.
Looking back at the past 20 years, he admits: “It wasn’t the case that everybody got a fair share. It wasn’t the case that everyone had a ‘fair shake of the sauce bottle’, as they say in Australia.
“And that means that the people who deliver our food, the people who repair the pipes in our homes, the skilled backbone, the best of Britain, deserve a pay rise.
“When you’ve got a failing school and someone takes it over, you’ve got a new headmaster. He will smarten the uniform, make sure that the teachers are wearing collars and ties, change the name of the school. All of that is a signal of intent.
“And then there are other things that take slightly longer; getting rid of underperforming teachers; making sure that students are studying for the right exams and so on.
“And we’re looking at levelling up in the same way.”
“The first part of it is making sure that someone can see a visible difference. And then the second thing is laying the groundwork for your long-term economic transformation.”
And he says the Union can be strengthened with the same logic, adding: “It is about the North East of Scotland as much as the North East of England, and one of the things that we’ll be doing is making sure the UK Government is more visible in every part of the UK.”
He adds: “You’ve got those people who want to talk the country down, pull our statues down, denigrate our achievements, and I just think it is such a profound misunderstanding of the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in this country are proud, not in a nostalgic way, they’re proud of what the UK is.”
And he says voters should look at what the Government has already delivered before writing off its chances of doing more.
He adds: “Boris led the Leave campaign and said we’re going to invest more in the NHS. We’ve done so. He said wages are going to rise. They have.
“He said we’re going to control migration as part of that. He has.
“And he said that Brexit is also going to mean a focus on the people and the communities — Sun readers to a man and woman — who may have been either patronised or let down by people in the past. Absolutely correct.”