How the pro-Tory media struggled with Michael Gove's announcement

Michael Gove and Sarah Vine, seen in June 2016 - on their way to vote in the Brexit referendum

Michael Gove and Sarah Vine, seen in June 2016 - on their way to vote in the Brexit referendum - Credit: Getty Images

TIM WALKER on how the Sun and Mail on Sunday struggled with reporting an open secret

The press statement Michael Gove and Sarah Vine put out to an unstartled nation last week announcing that they were splitting up included a request for privacy.

Most of the major news organisations had, however, kept scrupulously to the press watchdog IPSO’s code of conduct on privacy, even though there was an awareness among journalists of the estrangement of Vine and Gove, pictured, for more than a year.

Ironically, the only journalist who had been invading the couple’s privacy during that time had been Vine herself in her columns in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday. I had noted as long ago as December how she had written obliquely about “a tiresome break-up in which one party refuses to accept that the other has reached the end of the line.”

Much was made of Vine’s more recent comments about the break-up of Matt Hancock’s marriage. “Westminster is a place of myriad distractions for the politician seeking refuge from his or her home life,” she wrote.

The story was an awkward one for the mainstream media on account of Gove’s friendship with Rupert Murdoch and the fact Vine is on the Mail payroll. The only newspaper that put in calls some months ago to check out the story had been the Mirror, but it had been offered no assistance.

At the Mail headquarters, there was still disappointment that one of their titles couldn’t have broken the story.

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Paul Dacre, the group’s editor-in-chief, is a personal friend of the couple – Vine attended his 70th birthday party – and Vine numbers Lady Rothermere, the wife of the papers’ owner, among her closest friends. The Daily Mail all but buried the story on page 22 on Saturday and the Mail on Sunday ran it on page 20.

I’m told Lady Rothermere has still been a “tower of strength” for Vine during this challenging time. Gove has been comforted by old friends, such as Dominic Cummings and his protege, the Downing Street special adviser Henry Newman.

Gove, by the way, has just declared a freebie from Banco Santander of two tickets, including hospitality, for the UEFA Champions League Final in Portugal, worth £2,500, which he attended with his son.

Gavin’s move

Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin – now Lord – Barwell has taken on an unlikely second career as a housing advisor. His new job, reported in the Register of Lords’ Interests, seems grimly ironic given how, in the run-up to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, he had allegedly disregarded concerns raised over fire safety rules in seven letters sent to him when he was housing minister.

He discloses his appointment as a trustee of the Barratt Development PLC Charitable Foundation alongside services his company, Gavin Barwell Consulting, has provided on a paid basis for Barratt.

Barwell’s company, set up in July 2019, has just published its inaugural accounts. It holds all of £27,805 in capital and reserves – less than three hours work for May, according to her latest public speaking fees.

Marr’s man

Andrew Marr never forgave me for childishly running – even if it was 20 years ago – “lookalike” photographs of him in Mandrake beside a monkey with unusually big ears. I was told at the time this would mean I’d never be invited to go on his show to review the papers and so it’s turned out.

Fair enough, but Peter Stefanovic, the lawyer and film-maker whose video of Boris Johnson monkeying around with the truth has now achieved an astonishing 25 million views, has never blotted his copybook in this way.

Stefanovic is articulate, good on camera and seems an obvious choice as, say, a paper reviewer, if not someone to talk about Johnson. Over the weekend, I challenged Marr to have him on his show. An answer came there none.

Stefanovic tells me: “It’s easy to think we live in a bubble, but I really do think we’re breaking through with the truth, even without the BBC. I’ve really hated hammering them because there is much about the BBC I love, but they have really let themselves down with their news reporting.”

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