LONDON — He's quiet, bookish, and widely accused of back-stabbing the front-runner in the race to become the next British prime minister. Michael Gove is suddenly the talk of the town.
Shocking political pundits in Britain — who, by now, really ought to be immune from shocking news — Gove on Thursday said that he didn’t think that former London mayor Boris Johnson could provide the leadership the Conservative Party needed.
As of Wednesday— a lifetime ago in Britain's wild political ride — Gove was expected to throw his support behind Johnson, a fellow-in-arms in the successful campaign for Britain to leave the European Union. Gove, however, had other plans, despite repeated statements that he never wanted the keys to 10 Downing Street.
First came Gove's bombshell that he wanted to be prime minister after all. Then an ambushed and deflated Johnson announced Thursday that he was dropping out of the race to replace Prime Minister David Cameron, who is stepping down after his pro-E.U. side came up short in last week's referendum.
Johnson, according to Gove, did not have the "team captaincy" that the U.K. required. You can watch a clip of him here:
The comparisons to Frank Underwood — the fictional schemer-in-chief on "House of Cards" — came thick and fast. (The U.S. series is, of course, a remake of a 1990 British series of the same name.)
Britain’s justice secretary is a controversial figure, admired by some, loathed by others. Gove — or "Gover," as Johnson calls him — is considered one of Westminster’s more cerebral figures. On his nomination papers to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party, he used Roman numerals.
While some had questions about Johnson's commitment to the cause of Brexit, Gove is seen as a lifelong Brexiter and was one of the first people in Cameron’s senior leadership team to say he was backing the campaign to leave the E.U.
Unlike some parts of the leave campaign that focused largely on immigration, Gove's driving argument for leaving was one of sovereignty.
“Laws which govern citizens in this country are decided by politicians from other nations who we never elected and can’t throw out,” he wrote in the Spectator magazine.
He said he "shuddered" when he saw a poster unveiled by Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, which showed a long line of refugees and migrants next to the words "Breaking Point."
But he also apologized for comparing economic experts warning about the impact of the E.U. referendum to the Nazis denouncing Albert Einstein in the 1930s.
Born in 1967, Gove was adopted and raised in Aberdeen, Scotland, by Labour-supporting parents. He studied English at Oxford, and went on to become a journalist before entering Parliament in 2005 as a Conservative lawmaker.
In 2010, Cameron appointed Gove education secretary, a posting where he tried to radically reform the status quo. David Laws, a British politician who worked closely with Gove in the education department, told the BBC: “One Conservative MP I think described Michael as like a mixture of Jeeves and Che Guevara."
Perhaps he was seen as just too divisive. Cameron, a close friend of Gove, moved him to the post of chief whip ahead of last year’s general election, a move many thought was a demotion.
"Demotion, emotion, promotion, locomotion, I don't know how you would describe this move, though move it is. All I would say is that it's a privilege to serve," is how Gove described it.
He became the justice secretary following the general election last year.
He is married to Sarah Vine, a columnist for the Daily Mail, who sent an extraordinary email that was leaked Wednesday that quickly earned her comparisons to "House of Cards" first lady-slash-Lady MacBeth Claire Underwood.
In the email, Vine told her husband not to “concede any ground” in negotiating with Johnson and to “be your stubborn best.”
It appears he listened to her advice.