The Government has set great store on claiming that the Fox saga was a one-off. He had broken the Ministerial code, he had refused to heed warnings from his Permanent Secretary that his behaviour was outside the constitutional guidelines for such a sensitive position, and in effect he was running a privatised foreign and defence policy independent of the FCO and MOD. But, Cameron and others insisted, there were no wider implications because no other Ministers were behaving in this way.
Step forward Jonathan Djanogly, the justice minister, who right on cue has been forced out of regulating the claims management industry after an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary on the grounds that he didn’t declare that his brother-in-law owns a firm that provided staff for the claims management companies, and that he and his family could profit from the changes to legal aid he was piloting through Parliament. But that’s minor compared to Gove.
Gove is a man very much in the Fox mould – arrogant, headstrong, dismissive of advice, and incurably convinced of his own rightness. A few weeks ago he was asked questions about his handling of ‘free schools’ and academies. The questions were blocked or evaded. An FOI request was launched to extract the information, using the legal facility made available to ensure that matters within the public service were fully disclosed and accessible. The request was turned down on the grounds that it involved emails between the Secretary of State and his special advisers and Conservative Party contacts which were nothing to do with the Department or the public service. But this was not a technical dispute, as leaked emails show.
Dominic Cummings, one of Gove’s closest advisers, told a senior cicil servant: “New Schools Network is not giving out to you, the media or anybody else any figures on ‘expressions of interest’ for PQs, FOIs or anything else. Further, NSN has not, is not, and will never answer a single FOI request made to us concerning anything at all”. Cummings is now at the centre of a row over the use of private emails by Gove’s closest advisers when conducting government business”.
Gove is close to Cameron in a way that Fox was not. Nevertheless I predict that such is Gove’s self-willed recklessness in discarding the rules of Ministerial accountability and in throwing overboard anything that stands in his way, however idiosyncratic his demands, that he will not survive this Parliament in Ministerial office.