Friending Sarah Vine
I'd love to be closer to Sarah Vine. Not just because she's married to Michael Gove, though I'm as interested as everyone else in his very uncertain career prospects. The degree of support she's given his twin campaigns to undermine the European Union and Boris Johnson has made me almost pruriently curious about her own power. And her weekly column for the Daily Mail, though revealing in its way, doesn't illuminate enough. It’s padded out with domestic anecdotes, to be sure, but they come with too many platitudes and skincare tips for my taste. But a significant social opportunity has just opened up – because last week, Sarah (I feel I can now call her that) reached out on Facebook.
It would be wrong to make too much of the gesture, because we aren't proper friends yet. She wrote a very inclusive invitation on her timeline last week though, which appeared on my news feed via our mutual friend Natasha. At a time when a lot of people in our overlapping social circles were sounding upset about the referendum result, Sarah wished the losers could transcend their bitterness:
Wouldn’t it be nice if instead of wingeing [sic] and raging about the outcome of a democratic vote which, let’s face it, one side held all the cards and still managed to lose, the clever people of Facebook would turn their thoughts to making this a positive moment for the country by offering to lend advice and expertise?
The question didn't go down well. Natasha herself was incredulous, reminding Sarah that her own husband had said at a Sky News interview on 2 June that 'the people of this country have had enough of experts.' But Sarah wasn't to be put off. 'Instead of sniping,' she asked Natasha, 'why not see what you can do to help move forward?'
I promptly offered Sarah my legal expertise. Nothing I can say is original or profound, admittedly – like almost every lawyer I know, all I can predict is that years of bureaucratic and constitutional chaos lie ahead – and Michael probably wouldn't care anyway. Given his willingness to ignore 'the leaders of the US, India, China, Australia, every single one of our allies, the Bank of England, the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the International Monetary Fund, the CBI, five former Nato secretary-generals, the chief executive of the NHS and most trade union leaders’, legal and constitutional analysis isn't likely to bother him much. He definitely listens to Sarah, though, as we learned through the ‘leaked’ email in which she told him how to manage his pre-assassination discussions with Boris. So, once she accepts the friendship request I've now sent, I'm hoping we'll at last move forward together.
I'll be excited to tap her expertise in return. Michael spent months perfecting the arguments for Vote Leave – treading a political path that wasn't so much a tightrope as a Möbius strip – and he and Boris agreed on policy and strategy to the very end. The Telegraph column Boris dashed off eight days ago, with its implicit support for the single market and freedom of movement, is now seen as the misstep that led to Boris's downfall, but it's important to remember that Michael – an experienced journalist – approved every word. He told Boris just hours before publication that the article's first draft was 'very very good', and all his proposed amendments were incorporated into the published version. And though I understand why the column substituted evasion for detail – because Boris and Michael privately recognise that it's impossible to enjoy the advantages of EU membership without any of its burdens – I really don't get why their shared intellectual dishonesty has so far flushed only one career down the pan.
Michael's survival is even more mysterious given that he now differentiates himself from Boris by claiming ideological purity and leadership skills. If he supported the single market and free movement as much as the 26 June article implies, the only plausible explanation for his public reversal is dishonesty and opportunism. If he didn't, his duplicity isn't just cunning, but malevolent. Either way, Michael's co-authorship of one of the quickest suicide notes in history makes him unsuited to any position of trust – let along the office of prime minister.
Then again, Tory traditions of fratricide are beyond my expertise. My best hope of getting a handle on this whole shoddy business is through the person who knows Michael best. And once Sarah and I have sorted it out on Facebook, I promise to stop sniping, and share.