I had that Michael Gove in the back of my church once. Well, it wasn’t strictly my church; but it was definitely Gove. It was late 2009, just a few months before the 2010 election. I was helping my colleagues with our annual charity day, on this occasion making Christmas dinner for what turned out to be about 80 homeless people – mainly East European men, as it happened – and the venue for this hybrid feast of turkey and Polish cabbage was a church hall just off the Askew Road.
The charity we were helping was led by one of those burly charismatics, late 50s and genial, motivated by some unfathomable mix of deep faith and the vicissitudes of his particular life path, and I should probably have known who he was – and should definitely know now – but either way I heard a rumour as I was sweating away in the kitchen that some bloke called Michael Gove was dropping by.
The Tories at that point had been making noise about the Big Society and the importance of the third sector and all that jazz (the days of austerity were yet to come…) so I presumed that the previously mentioned burly genial chap was a well known 'social entrepreneur' and that Gove was dropping by for a photo op – you know, aspirational politician endorses entrepreneurial charity, looks good in the promotional literature, etcetera.
But when Gove arrived there were no cameras; and rather than stay for five minutes he stuck around for close to an hour and a half.
For a while I was impressed; he spent virtually the whole time with the genial fat bloke, clearly grilling him on how all this worked, and how it was funded, and what were the barriers to expansion and so forth. He – Gove – wasn’t much interested in Brook Lyndhurst, or the people cooking and serving and clearing up, or even the poor people so obviously enjoying their Christmas Party. No, he was clearly intent on learning as much as he could in preparation for the delivery of the Big Society, and this meant talking to a big man who ran a small-scale, community-based entrepreneurial charity.
But after a while I began to get just a tad pissed off; Gove was throughout this time surrounded by busy people working hard, in most cases doing tough but elementary things like pouring drinks and ferrying potatoes and suchlike – and not once did he lend a hand. In fact – and this for me is where my pique began to reach a crescendo – he was increasingly in the way of all the hard work, and appeared to have no idea that this was the case.
So I was standing next to Ellie, looking through the serving hatch from the kitchen, and I shared with her a fragment of my perspective on this matter, and she said:
“What are you going to do?”
So I walked into the hall, found a big pile of dirty plates and handed them to the shadow minister:
“Can you put these over there please?” I asked.
And he did.