The ‘new royal yacht’ only enjoyed a brief life, between its leaking yesterday [no pun intended] and the prime minister’s spokesman killing off the idea at this morning’s lobby briefing. That doesn’t mean Michael Gove’s plea for a replacement for Britannia will go away. Many, including newer Conservative MPs, love the projection of power that the royal yacht provides. Current arrangements for the Royals, including smaller RAF jets and rented airliners, lack that patriotic je ne sais quoi of sailing into a foreign harbour, flags a-fluttering.
There has been a little discussion today about how this won’t do Gove any harm in a future leadership election – an MP I had a quick chat with pointed out this would resonate particularly well with the party membership. The education secretary would have a number of obstacles to overcome to lead his party including his metropolitan image and closeness to the Cameron project. However, if Gove succeeds in his education reforms and wins his fight with the educational establishment (as he describes it), then he would have a huge amount of credit in the bank.
But there’s another possible big role for Gove that throws up some intriguing context on this leak. Some within the Foreign Office believe Gove has his eye on replacing William Hague at some point in the future. They believe it is his dream job. His unabashed neo-con beliefs frighten the FCO. “It’s the glint in his eye sometimes that’s a bit alarming,” said a foreign office insider to me earlier.
You can imagine what a Gove foreign policy would look like: unequivocal support for Israel, a very robust stance towards Iran…and perhaps a new royal yacht. When Gove wrote his letter to Jeremy Hunt, perhaps it wasn’t the Conservative leadership that he had in mind at all. Instilling huge educational reforms followed by a period as foreign secretary would certainly enshrine Gove with ‘big beast’ status.