Gove smothers May with praise – while retreating from his extremism apology
Michael Gove fell over himself to praise Theresa May this morning – while subtly retreating from his apology over her handling of extremism.
The education secretary was humiliated into saying sorry after a bitter public row raged last month over the radicalisation of Islamists in Britain.
Gove was eventually forced to apologise for having attacked May for not "draining the swamp" from which terrorism emerges.
He's been rather quiet since then, but popped up on The Andrew Marr Show this morning to talk it over.
One thing was obvious from the start: he was being very, very nice to Theresa.
When sizing up what needs to be done, he acknowledged there were questions for local authorities to address, as well as "my own department". Not a mention of the Home Office.
On the question of the Isis caliphate, he stated: "I think it's important to stress that no home secretary has been as vigilant in dealing with the terrorist threat as Theresa May." He revealed she had been telling the Cabinet the Syria-Iraq region now poses a greater threat to the UK's security than any other in the world.
Then later in the interview he added: "Theresa May has been more vigorous in stopping hate preachers getting into this country than any of her predecessors."
This was too much for Marr, who pointed out that his praise for the home secretary was rather non-stop. "She's done a very good job in this area," Gove shot back. He then offered his own version of the row: "Some of the things that have been written about this in the past are very very far from the reality" – clearly a sign that this is still something of a sore spot.
All this would be very amusing and entertaining, were it not for the fact that Gove's rhetoric actually saw him retreat on the main points he was originally disagreeing with May about.
His dispute with the Home Office was about whether enough is being done to nip extremism in the bud. When the phrase 'draining the swamp' was put to him – his own, as we now know – he didn't shy away from outlining his views.
"We need to challenge these views and we need to make sure people who have views which are inimical to liberal values, and which use institutions to push an agenda which is inimical to liberal values, are not in a position where they can use public money to pursue their views," Gove said.
"One of the things I'm anxious we can do is to make sure we look for the evidence and follow the evidence. We know that in the past there have been people in this country, preachers of hate and others, who have attempted and succeeded to poison young minds, so we need to be vigilant."
That is not a direct retraction of an apology, but May might see it as something coming close to it. Gove has done well in recovering so quickly from his embarrassment. He will be calculating the avalanche of compliments will smother the audacity of his unrepentance.