6 November 2015

Michael Gove shows up unfunny Alex Salmond


To the Savoy Hotel for the Spectator Parliamentarian of the year awards lunch, the fun Annual General Meeting of the British political/media class, where Diane Abbott made a very strange speech when accepting an award on behalf of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. She made one goodish point, however. The sceptical people in that ballroom – journalists, politicians, lobbyists – miss that there is a hunger for politicians who are not overly spun, she said. Out there in the country there is interest in Jeremy Corbyn, she claimed. Actually, hold on, she undermined her own point. There are these things called opinion polls, in which public opinion is tested, and they show that in the country there is almost no enthusiasm for or interest in Jeremy Corbyn. His numbers started poor and are getting worse. The political/media class is right to regard him as a dud, because he is.

But the most interesting aspect of yesterday’s proceedings was the contrast between the speeches of Alex Salmond, the former SNP leader and Scottish First Minister, and Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary.

Salmond thinks he is hilarious and as guest of honour he was determined to prove it. The results, in his speech, were both disappointing and revealing. Salmond included references to a bizarre recent story about him using the name of his favourite Star Trek character as an alias when boarding a flight.

But in deploying the anecdote he made a basic error. Not everyone is as interested in Alex Salmond as Alex Salmond is. Most of the people in the room would have had no idea what he was talking about. The Star Trek Salmond thing wasn’t a big story, certainly not south of the border.

If Salmond was unfunny, Gove provided a masterclass in how to do these things. His speech was short. It was self-deprecatory. It was witty. He questioned why he had been given a prize at all.

“It is remarkable that I have been given this award. It is very kind… for most of the last 12 months I was not Education Secretary or Justice Secretary, I was chief whip, possibly the most ineffectual figure to hold that title since Simon de Montford first called Parliament. Possibly the most ludicrous figure to put in a disciplinary position since Mr Barraclough was a prison warder in Porridge. Someone whose political genius extended, yes, to making John Bercow a figure of sympathy across the House of Commons.”

As well as being bested by Gove, Salmond was also eclipsed by Harriet Harman and David Cameron. Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond’s more modest successor, will be pleased.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX.