Michael Gove staged the louchest launch so far. Guests were given gold wristbands and ascended 28 floors by lift to the Skyloft at the top of Millbank Tower, where the crowd was stiffened by a contingent of volunteers from the more intellectual end of Notting Hill.
In this strange room with bare brick walls and fake wooden beams on a low ceiling, conversation was impeded by loud pop music, but an atmosphere of intense admiration for Gove prevailed.
His backdrop was adorned on one side with the three words “Unite. Deliver. Lead.” Denis Staunton, London Editor of The Irish Times, suggested the otherwise superfluous punctuation was the “full stop to the backstop”, as promised in Gove’s speech.
The candidate did not disappoint his fans, but the press did, by telling him, as Nick Watt of Newsnight put it, “your campaign is in real trouble – you thought it was OK in a London dinner party to break the law by snorting cocaine”.
“That was bloody years ago,” a Gove partisan at the back of the room said in disgust, but Gove himself slipped into his unctuous clergyman mode: “You should reflect on your mistakes…”
Jason Groves, from The Daily Mail, suggested it was “time to call it a day”.
“That’s a totally shit question,” the angry man at the back exclaimed. “Twat.”
Gove himself went on the attack: “If I get through which I’m sure I will actually to the final two against Mr Johnson, this is what I will say to him:
“Mr Johnson, whatever you do, don’t pull out. I know you have before and I know you may not believe in your heart you can do it.”
Like some brilliant martial arts exponent, Gove seeks to use his opponent’s greater strength and weight to flip him straight over on his back.
So Gove wins top marks as a debater. The journalists who attended his launch generally came away saying it was the best yet.
Through the windows of the Skyloft a murky panorama of London could be admired through the rain: Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, Lambeth Palace, and the Shard with its summit hidden in the cloud.
Gove’s prospects are a bit murky too. But his talents shine as brightly as ever amid the encircling gloom, and he left no doubt that, as someone once said, he fights on, and fights to win.