But some of Gove's colleagues are warming to the idea of his succeeding, mainly because his growing achievement in education elevates him above the ministerial crowd. "I hope he is lying when he says he doesn't ever want to be leader," says one of the new Tory intake. "What is so exciting about Michael Gove is that he isn't managerial. He's fighting and winning a big battle in the culture war with the Left."
Indeed, his reforms are not only going to be transformational, but they speak to a wider cultural hunger for an abandonment of low standards and declining expectations. This resonates particularly strongly when Britain is in the middle of an economic crisis and needs to raise its game dramatically if it hopes to recover.
Patience Wheatcroft, a journalist and now Conservative peer, worked with Gove at The Times: "His views were not always predictable but were always expressed with amazing fluency and, generally, with great wit. He was editing the opinion pages when I was writing a weekly column and he was a delight to work for: encouraging, constructive and unfailingly polite. His move into politics has been truly impressive. There is obviously a steely core which enabled him to get through the early battles he had at the education department. I think he is helped by a belief that he really can improve the education that is offered. I can see him getting to the very top."
Even a Tory MP who has considerable doubts can now envisage the possibility of Gove in No 10: "I can see it. I think there was a question mark about his political courage, which he's answered in the way he dealt with the difficult first few months as education secretary. But he looks a little odd to be leader, perhaps, and he is notoriously disorganised."
The newspaper columns by Gove's wife, the Times journalist Sarah Vine, certainly bear out that last observation. The education secretary is portrayed on a weekly basis as a serial incompetent on the domestic front who has a great deal of trouble parking his own car.
"I never regarded Michael as a future prime minister, although I like him immensely," says a Tory contemporary and fellow moderniser. "Yet he is filling out in office and becoming a very serious figure. Getting a few victories can change how people are perceived. Remember that in the early 1970s people didn't think of Margaret Thatcher as a leader but she had ideas and drive. Michael has both."
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