Flushing out the truth: Here’s how Michael Gove got stuck in the toilets on his first day as chief whip
Michael Gove's reputation appears to have disappeared down the pan, after a chat with a Labour backbencher meant he got stuck in the toilet on his first day as chief whip.
The former education secretary, who looked noticeably flushed in prime minister's questions yesterday, got trapped inside a toilet in the 'no' lobby during his first vote in the job.
Gove was waylaid in conversation with Labour backbencher Bill Esterson, who came across the chief whip relieving himself in the toilet in the 'yes' lobby just as the division was called.
"I nipped into the toilet and he was finishing, so to speak, and stopped to talk to me," Esterson, a member of the Commons' education committee, told Politics.co.uk.
"He stopped to apologise to me for missing our select committee appearance that morning because of his change of job – he was due to talk to us about our inquiry on extremism in Birmingham schools.
"We had a bit of a chat about that. Meanwhile the vote was going on, so he was in the wrong lobby."
Esterson joked with Gove that getting sacked was an unnecessarily extreme step to take to avoid his impending select committee appearance – as, outside, Gove's opportunity to fix his mistake closed.
The doors of the voting lobbies are locked eight minutes after a vote is called, preventing any late-arriving MPs from voting after that time.
Parliamentarians then have a further five minutes to exit the lobby past the tellers – at which point they are deemed to have voted.
"I thought it was a bit odd he hadn't anticipated there was going to be a vote, because he was in the wrong lobby. He should have been in the no lobby, or no lobby at all," Esterson added.
"You would have thought the chief whip wouldn't have been in that situation. He was a little careless."
The chief whip is responsible for ensuring that members of his party vote correctly.
Gove has had a troubled movement this week from the Department for Education, saying it was a "wrench" to leave his job as education secretary – and his Cabinet status – behind.
Now he faces mockery from the opposition, which jumped at the opportunity to mention the incident in the Commons chamber earlier.
"He hasn't had the most auspicious of starts," shadow leader of the Commons Angela Eagle told MPs.
"Yesterday he not only lost his first vote but he managed to get stuck in the toilet in the wrong lobby and he nearly broke his own whip."
The incident happened during the vote on Labour backbencher Alison McGovern's ten-minute rule bill. The government lost the vote by 203 votes to 16 – prompting McGovern to claim she had notched up Gove's first defeat as chief whip.
New leader of the House William Hague did not deny the incident took place in his reply.
He prompted prolonged laughter in the chamber with his comment on Gove's bathroom activities, saying: "Knowledge of who is in the toilets in whatever lobby is a very important piece of information for any chief whip and I take this as evidence that he was carrying out his duties very assiduously."
This is not the first time a government minister has found themselves caught short during a Commons division.
Former local government minister Andrew Stunell was shut into the wrong voting lobby in 2012 after he made the mistake of going in search of a washroom for a glass of water.
At the time Labour said the government had "plumbed new levels of incompetence".