Even Storm George is subdued by Pastor Gove’s Lurpak act

Michael Gove's Aberdeenshire lilt becomes more Wee Free Pastor as he lists bad things
Michael Gove's Aberdeenshire lilt becomes more Wee Free Pastor as he lists bad things - UK Parliament/Maria Unger
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Diversity is our strength! Michael Gove announced to the House with his characteristic gusto. He then proceeded to list all the ways in which freedom of expression, the safety of public officials, community cohesion and the rule of law were having to be sacrificed to the great Moloch which is also apparently our guide and protector.

Mr Gove’s gentle Aberdeenshire lilt becomes more Wee Free Pastor as he lists bad things. He looks more worn these days and so the sprightly Pob-meets-Tigger vibe which he once gave off naturally has given way to a more stentorian tone. That, and his ministerial beat now involves attempting to combat the triumph of extremism rather than setting up academies or helping hedgehogs as it did in more carefree days.

Playing the voice of reason opposite Pastor Gove was an unusually subdued Angela Rayner, who was replete in a multicoloured dress redolent of a cracked iPhone screen. Specifically she wanted to know how it was that the Government had managed to fund a series of groups dedicated to its overthrow and replacement with either a Nazi state or a caliphate.

An unusually subdued Angela Rayner played  the voice of reason opposite Michael Gove
An unusually subdued Angela Rayner played the voice of reason opposite Michael Gove - UK Parliament/Maria Unger

The good Pastor switched on the charm with a response that was pure Lurpak: he thanked the shadow secretary of state, told her how much he’d enjoyed meeting her yesterday, he welcomed her, he even agreed with her! But he didn’t answer the question.

This Govian evasion lasted for almost an hour and a half; Armando Iannucci-worthy lines like “we are setting up a Counter-Extremism Centre of Excellence in my department as a world-leading authority”, were delivered with a straight face.

Over to the Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley who as befits the Chamber’s link to the past, immediately mentioned Sir Oswald Mosley.

Several MPs were concerned that the new guidance might prove too all-encompassing. They had a point. For instance, the definition includes those who “overturn or undermine the UK’s system of parliamentary liberal democracy”. One wonders how elastic this is meant to be; the police, the House of Lords, lobbyists, journalists, those of us who sometimes look at Westminster and think “actually, you know what, let’s give absolute monarchy a go”? Still, hopefully the backlog of prosecutions starting with King John will mean we sketch-writers will be quite low down the list.

There was an inevitable intervention from George Galloway who, coherent as ever, described the statement as being part of “a culture war wallpaper”: the love child of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and the Ayatollahs. Gove again spread the Lurpak on thick: he congratulated Galloway on his victory in Rochdale and praised his oratory skills. Against all odds, Storm George had been subdued.

Claire Hanna of the SDLP wondered whether those calling for a united Ireland would fall under the new banner. Gove, who is about as unionist as it gets without actually morphing into Sir Edward Carson, oiled his bat once more. With no hint of irony, he hailed Ms Hanna and her separatist colleagues as part of a “long and proud tradition”.

Mr Gove washed away Joanna Cherry’s concerns about the unintended consequences for gender-critical feminists with another bucket of oil. Ms Cherry, said Gove, represented “the best of the SNP”. This, though true, was a dubious compliment – like being world champion at tic-tac-toe.

Once again, Gove showed himself a master of the Commons, managing to make a bill about offence positively charming.

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