Michael Gove makes bid for Tory hearts with fiery Leveson appearance

Michael Gove

The education secretary clashed with the judge investigating press ethics to applause from right-wing hacks on Twitter

LAST UPDATED AT 12:16 ON Wed 30 May 2012

MICHAEL GOVE made an audacious bid to establish himself as the leading contender to succeed David Cameron as Tory leader - whenever the vacancy arises - during a fiery appearance at the Leveson inquiry yesterday, which had right-wingers singing his praises across the Twitterverse.

The education secretary came out swinging at the inquiry yesterday, clashing with Lord Justice Leveson about the need for press reform and calling his former employer Rupert Murdoch - Gove worked in a number of positions on The Times, including as news editor and leader writer - as "one of the most impressive and significant figures of the last 50 years".

"Gove going up a gear today. Defence of free press against officialdom-loving #leveson is brilliant stuff", wrote the Daily Telegraph's Iain Martin, while the Daily Express's chief political commentator Patrick O'Flynn hailed a "big move by Gove at Leveson today. In a thinned-out field he will become Tory leader-in-waiting."

As the BBC's Vicki Young observed, "culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has often been described as the Murdochs' cheerleader in government but after this performance Mr Gove could surely compete for the title."

While defending the "precious liberty" of journalists and remarking that "by definition free speech doesn't mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time", Gove managed to draw a rare rebuke from Leveson who testily replied: "Mr Gove, I do not need to be told about the importance of freedom of speech, I really don't."

Gove has form with Leveson, having said in February that the inquiry had created a "chilling atmosphere that threatens free speech in Britain" and warned that Leveson might produce "a cure that is worse than the original disease", remarks which were deemed prejudicial in some quarters when he made them.

Some tweeters were amused however to see Gove defending the press so doggedly when he has had his own problems in recent months with the Financial Times, which claimed he uses his private email to conduct government business to avoid scrutiny. Thais Portilho-Shrimpton of the Hacked Off campaign noted: "Gove, the defender of a free press HIDES his government business from FoI requests by using his personal email. I laugh. #Leveson". · 

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