What would Francis Urquhart have said? Answer: probably nothing – at least in his earlier political days; or at least not in public; or at least only to camera. And he would certainly have kept schtum during a by-election campaign.
How far from the political life of the real-life and newish Chief Whip, Michael Gove. Here he is in today’s Times (£) (if you can get behind the paywall), chatting cheerfully away while on the stump in Clacton. Yes, Conservative MPs will come to campaign. Yes, Labour and Liberal Democrat voters may vote Tory tactically in order to stop UKIP. Yes, the Conservatives will make a “positive case”. (The signs so far are good.)
So far so predictable, perhaps. More significant in terms of substance, if not style, is another public-facing intervention in the Sun. No, not direct quotes this time – but a very upfront-looking story claiming that the new Chief Whip will take a relaxed view of Tory MPs opposing Nick Clegg’s recall plans.
This is worth clocking for three reasons. First, because – as with the Times story – it’s there at all. Second, because Gove is thereby indicating sympathy for the direct democracy agenda, however indirectly. Before anyone rushes in to point out this has been popularised by Douglas Carswell as well as Daniel Hannan, it’s worth recalling another authorial name on the original “Direct Democracy” book: Michael Gove.
And finally, because it’s part of a quiet story of the two Coalition partners gradually going their different ways as next May draws nearer. Only last week, the Liberal Democrats voted to amend spare room subsidy measures which they had previously voted to support. Watch for much more of this differentiation from both parties (assuming of course the Government gets through next week’s referendum vote inact). Very welcome it will be, too.
Come to think of it, there’s a fourth reason. The new Chief Whip’s relationship with the Liberal Democrats in general, and Nick Clegg in particular, has gone from warmish to antarctic-cold.