For the Times of Israel by Jenni Frazer posted June 30 2016
Tory leadership runners and riders for ToI from Jenni Frazer June 30 2016
The race to succeed David Cameron as Conservative Prime Minister in the UK took an unexpected twist on Thursday with the surprise announcement that Justice Secretary Michael Gove was throwing his hat in the ring — and the decision of Boris Johnson not to run.
Gove is one of parliament’s most passionate pro-Zionists, a supporter of faith schools when he was Education Secretary and a denouncer of BDS as “a crime”. But Gove, who co-ran the successful Brexit campaign with Boris Johnson for Britain to leave the European Union, was not widely thought to be in the running.
That is, until an email to her husband from his famously outspoken wife, Sarah Vine, a columnist on the Daily Mail, was leaked to the press. In it, Vine advises Gove not to back Boris without specific assurances from him on immigration controls; though Vine’s email was widely mocked — the Guardian asked if Sarah Vine thought her husband was an idiot — it appears to have galvanised the politician into deciding that he would in fact run for leadership of the Conservative Party.
In 2012, however, after being spoken of as a contender as prime minister, Gove demurred. He said then: “I’m constitutionally incapable of it. There’s a special extra quality you need that is indefinable, and I know I don’t have it. There’s an equanimity, an impermeability and a courage that you need. There are some things in life you know it’s better not to try.”
Nevertheless, he is now trying — and only hours after his announcement came Boris Johnson’s dramatic declaration that he was withdrawing from the race. Gove had said he did not believe Johnson could “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead”.
Boris may well have concluded that his chaotic private life — including the siring of one illegitimate child — would not withstand the inevitable press scrutiny in a leadership race.
Announcing his decision on Thursday morning, Johnson said: “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances of parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me.”
Gove, 49, was born in Edinburgh and raised in Aberdeen, where he was adopted at four months old. A journalist who was a long-time leader writer for The Times and admired as one of the politest men in politics, he nevertheless had a spectacular falling-out with Theresa May in 2014 over alleged “Trojan horse” extremism in schools. The Home Secretary’s closest aide resigned and Gove was ordered to apologise to the Prime Minister, after Gove briefed The Times against the Home Secretary, claiming that the Home Office had failed “to drain the swamp” of Islamic extremism.
For a time Gove, who entered Parliament in 2005, was cast out into the wilderness. He lost his post as Education Secretary but returned to the Conservative front bench as Justice Secretary in May 2015, a widely welcomed appointment. Politically liberal in outlook, Gove is a long-standing friend of the Jewish community and has been engaged with British Jews since at least 1998. He only made his first visit to Israel in December 2013, however, because he was terrified of flying and eventually had to go to a hypnotist to conquer that fear.
On that first flight Gove, then still Education Secretary, and his aides — to the astonishment of Israeli passengers — sat in the economy section of the cabin, chatting easily to his seat-mates. “No Israeli minister would ever do such a thing,” one passenger told this reporter. “Are you sure he’s a Conservative?”
Gove’s opponent, Theresa May, who will turn 60 this year, has been Home Secretary since 2010 and campaigned with the Remain group during the referendum race — although she was much more low-key than David Cameron and his chancellor, George Osborne.
A committed Christian, May was said to be the favourite to beat Johnson in several opinion polls, but no polling has yet been released for her chances against Gove.
She, too, is a great friend of the Jewish community, spending time speaking to a variety of charities across the spectrum, particularly the Community Security Trust and — perhaps surprisingly — the women and children’s charity, Emunah.
In a series of speeches she gave in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, May said “I could never have imagined Jewish people being too scared to stay in Britain”. Without its Jews, she said, “Britain would not be Britain”.
Pledging that synagogues and Jewish schools would get extra patrols to reassure worried communities, she said: “We must all redouble our efforts to wipe out anti-Semitism here.” Mrs May committed £13.4 million in security funding for the Jewish community in March this year.
She made a first visit to Israel in 2015 to meet Israeli experts in cyber security and combating modern slavery – “two challenges which both Israel and the UK are confronting with great determination”. She was the guest speaker for Beni Akiva’s Yom Atzmaut event this year, and spoke of her “honour” in celebrating Israel’s independence. She added: .”The modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of many generations of struggle”.
With the surprise withdrawal of Boris Johnson the Conservative leadership race is anyone’s to call — but both Michael Gove and Theresa May are strong supporters of Britain’s Jews and Israel.