On leaving Oxford, Gove was turned down for a job at the Conservative Research Department for suffering an apparent deficit of both qualities. The then director, Robin Harris, thought him insufficiently Conservative and not political enough.
He ran into Harris, the author of a new landmark history of the Conservatives, recently. He thinks Harris's book "superb" (it is), but says the strong criticisms of the Tory modernisers contained in the final chapter were an inevitable lapse from history into comment. It is a typically polite way of Gove saying that he thinks the book begins well but deteriorates the closer it gets to contemporary events.
There is a danger ("I'm sure Robin wouldn't do this," he says) in viewing Thatcher's leadership on fast-forward, as though she never made compromises or mistakes. However, he likes the current vogue for enthusiasm about her achievements that is apparent in Harris's book and in more popular terms in the reaction to the release of The Iron Lady.
"The reason that she is the first prime minister since Churchill that it is possible to make a film about is that what she did was heroic. You can make whatever judgments you like about other prime ministers, that Macmillan was artful and Blair was charismatic. But she was heroic."
Gove still strongly defends the Cameroon moderniser analysis: that many voters had come to distrust Conservative motives, and that insufficient attention was paid by the party to improving public services.
But he always was a strange kind of Notting Hill Tory. He is a foreign policy neoconservative, not in the way in which it is hinted that George Osborne is in private, but in a full-throated and very public way. About as pro-American and Atlanticist as it is possible to be without actually wrapping himself in the stars and stripes, Gove sees foreign policy in terms of freedom and the defence of civilisation against tyranny.
He is, of course, a good friend of Standpoint and sits on the magazine's advisory board. Gove describes himself as "not a fan of languid Conservatism". Perhaps for that reason he finds it easier to choose Conservative heroes who were American.
- ONLINE ONLY: Academic Boycotts Teach Us Nothing
- ONLINE ONLY: Send in the Clowns
- ONLINE ONLY: Thatcher, Reagan and the Dictators
- The Resolute Courage of Margaret Thatcher
- America's New Isolationists Are Endangering the West
- An Alternative To Our Reckless Energy Gamble
- The Family is the Key to the Future of Faith
- Persecuted Muslims Who Love Life in England
- They Were the Future of the Tory Party, Once
- The Parable of the Stupid Samaritan
- Pope Frank: In the Footsteps of St Francis
- The Middle Kingdom's Problem with Religion
- We Abandon Christians in the East At Our Peril
- Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?
- At Last: Gove Goes For the Culture of Excuses
- Is There a Way Out of the Tories' Modernising Mess?
- Online Only: The Kenyatta Dilemma
- Cameron is the Euro's Best Hope for Survival
- Census That Revealed a Troubling Future
- The Servant of the servants of God Departs in Peace