Michael Gove is standing in a public waste disposal site in west London, objective reality dissolving around him, surrounded by a semicircle of imaginary attendants he has made himself from discarded rubbish; mop-handle spines, coathanger arms, sofa cushion bodies, and rotting rubber football heads. “These are my attendants, Leapy Lee,” he cried up at me, his eyes Bolivian bright, “they are immensely dignified and they are real.” But there were scarcely 10 false attendants, and they had taken Gove a week to make. I could have made that many in a day. I suddenly had my first inkling of the gulf between reality and the Brexit government’s acceptance of it. Why was I here?
Some years prior to the peak of Michael Gove’s Colombian period, and before he was an MP, I was assigned to be the young satirical journalist’s additional material-writer on the boldly experimental 1992 Channel 4 comedy show, A Stab in the Arras. In each of the 36 episodes, the restaurant critic Tracey MacLeod flamboyantly operated a giant fairground waltzer, intermittently carrying the show’s other stars, Michael Gove, and David Baddiel (in a succession of culturally insensitive hats), past the lens of a fixed-position camera. Its microphone caught muffled snatches of context-free satirical opinion that faded into incoherence as the ride revolved, largely drowned out by the sound of the Wurlitzer organ.
I often fancy I see Gove lurking out of view, furtively watching me at motorway service stations
Audiences were baffled and many viewers subsequently became hermaphrodites, though the show has a bizarre half-life in a remote Patagonian commune. There, a devoted cult still believe that the 25-year-old Gove, a nagapie-faced avatar of cosmic justice whom they call the Night Monkey, was mouthing hidden revelations of the End Times.
A disorienting incident that left me scooping a babbling future chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster up off a patch of Wormwood Scrubs waste ground, and then burning the soiled lemming costume I found him wearing, led to my diplomatic dismissal. But I know Gove, a fellow orphan, has taken a fatherly, if unwelcome, interest in me since, and I often fancy I see him lurking out of view, furtively watching me, at motorway service stations, mountaintop cairns, agricultural shows, or kiosks.
Though we have never met, I was therefore not surprised when Gove’s partner, the Daily Mail thought-sluice Sarah Vine, contacted me through a third party to solicit aid. Gove, who had just been filmed recommending that the public scavenge rubbish dumps for their needs, and saying that a dozen massive Brexit lorry parks which were actually being built weren’t actually being built, was missing. Maybe someone from the days before the coca vine entangled Gove, who was now rumoured to dwell in one of the very rubbish tips he had recommended that the electorate scour, could help? Was this the spiritual toll of denying objective truths on a daily basis?
It is, for example, expecting a lot of the Brexit government to act on the evidence of the Russia report. The current Conservative machine re-edited news footage to discredit Keir Starmer, faked Brexit Facebook posts to respond to dubiously harvested data, and, during the last election, temporarily renamed its own website Factcheckuk, when 88% of its own online electoral communications were proven to be factually inaccurate. Lies are the lubricant of the Brexit government’s daily assaults on the orifices of the body politic. How can the prime minister, in good conscience, take action against the same methods that have secured his own white-fisted grip on the bruised and wilting organ of battered Brexit Britain?
The Covid Government continues to ignore its own documented misdemeanours, like a smoking assassin calmly walking away from an exploding building in a video game, having calmly paused to light a match on the stubble of a slaughtered opponent. As long ago as May 2016, when the fact-checking charity Full Fact pointed out that Michael Gove had lied about the EU wanting to ban kettles, he insisted his lies were not lies and doesn’t even seem to believe the basic idea of truth has any value.
I found Gove at the rubbish dump easily enough, following the sound of his voice through canyons of discarded white goods. “We hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want!” he shouted, lost in a maze of broken toilets. But he held only dirty bus tickets, and he wore just a Happy Shopper bag, with holes cut for his two legs. “Ah Leapy Lee!” he cried. “Do you like my facemask? It is deluxe.” Gove had an old Bazooka Joe bubblegum wrapper stuck to his cheek with saliva, flapping uselessly in the breeze. “I won’t wear them anyway. I agree with Donald Trump. I went in his lift, you know? An immensely dignified African American attendant was kitted out in frock-coat and white cotton gloves. It was as though the Great Glass Elevator from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had been restyled by Donatella Versace, then staffed by the casting director for Gone With the Wind.”
I found it hard to concentrate. One of Gove’s testicles was poking out of the Happy Shopper bag, the sick egg of a Chernobyl pigeon. “Ah Leapy!” he exclaimed. “I see you admire my briefs. They are Calvin Klein’s. It’s like Boris was made to say. I have more Calvin Kleins than Keir Starmer. No. That isn’t right. It’s the other way round, Leapy. Calvin Starmer has more briefs than Keir Cline. That is the sort of thing we must say. Ha! I’d make you a cup of tea, Leapy, but kettles have been banned by the EU. I decide what is true, Leapy. And I am absolutely right to do this! Have you met my attendants?”
Living in a world of perpetual lies can’t be good for the Conservatives’ souls. Unless they already sold them to devils years ago, in the form of rich Russian oligarchs’ spouses, taking tea on the lawn. Again. Anyone for tennis? New balls please!