Michael Gove delights Tories with 'bonkers' O-levels idea

The more the Education Secretary upsets the Lib Dems, the more grassroots Conservatives crave him as their next leader

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:11 ON Fri 22 Jun 2012

EDUCATION Secretary Michael Gove has boosted his long-term chances of becoming the next Conservative leader after "soggy" David Cameron following the leaking to the Daily Mail of his plans to bring back GCE O-level exams.

He may have been attacked as "bonkers" by critics and he has outraged Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, who accused him of trying to turn back the clock on kids' education. But his stock has risen among Conservative grassroots supporters who see Gove as the Only True Tory in the Westminster Village.

He may look like a spotty swot from the Alpha stream, but his readiness to upset the Lib Dems has endeared him to Tories at the Conservative Home website. Typical comments include: "Good for Michael Gove - he shouldn't let the left wing morons dictate to him" and "the Liberal Democrats will not support quality education - they only want to educate children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds".

Tim Montgomerie, who created the Conservative Home website, backs Gove in today's Daily Mail under the headline: 'At last, a politician that is brave enough to tell the truth.'

He hails Gove as "one Cabinet minister (who) is increasingly standing apart from the crowd”, adding: "One day, some time in the future, this brave politician might well be the kind of leader that the Conservative Party chooses and the nation craves."

The Tories were even more impressed that Gove failed to consult Lib Dem schools minister Sarah Teather. The more the Lib Dems protested, the more the Tories liked it.

Meanwhile, Cameron is in full retreat after taking aim at the tax avoidance scheme by Bentley-owning comedian Jimmy Carr. It seemed a good, populist idea when the Prime Minister jumped on the bandwagon to attack Carr but he suddenly realised it had backfired.

Tory donors who have shipped their wealth offshore to avoid the British taxman are now furious that Cameron seems to have declared open season on them. The Sunday newspapers are going to have a field day taking pot-shots at any Tory supporting alleged 'tax dodgers' such as Topshop boss Sir Philip Green, whose wealth is sheltered with his wife in Monaco.

Cameron waved the white flag after he was asked by journalists to comment on alleged tax avoidance by Tory-supporting Gary Barlow, the former Take That boy band member, who was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List at the weekend for organising her Diamond Jubilee concert in the Mall.

Cameron told reporters: "I am not going to give a running commentary on different people's tax affairs. I don't think that would be right."

The Daily Mail accused him of opening a Pandora's Box. It reports this morning: "The Prime Minister refused to criticise the tax affairs of Take That star Gary Barlow... Some senior Tories feared Mr Cameron's intervention could lead to an unwelcome media spotlight on the tax affairs of party donors and even ministers."

The Mole suspects that his Education Secretary would not have made that mistake. Time, perhaps, to start buying shares in Professor Gove. · 

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