Gove counters Ukip with a uke

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The remarkable influence of Ukip from outwith the walls of Westminster continues.

Last week all the main speakers in the Queen’s Speech debate that kicked off a new parliamentary session mentioned them.

All except David Cameron, who kept to his policy of never referring to them by name. A tactic he took to such lengths in a radio interview recently that the BBC’s Martha Kearney even asked him why he wouldn’t allow the word Ukip to pass his lips. He neither answered nor used the word “Ukip”. No one’s quite sure if he’s under a Rumpelstiltskin-type curse or just wants to deny the “fruitcakes and closet racists”, as he once branded them, the oxygen of publicity.

If it’s the latter it’s not going well.

Back in parliament, back-benchers set about countering Ukip by showing they are as anti-EU as Ukip.

But those Eurosceptic headbangers may as well bang their heads against a brick wall. Ukip voters say immigration, the economy and political correctness are what motivates them, Europe is some way down the list.

Which is why more cerebral Conservatives have a different plan. They put the rise of Ukip down to charismatic and constantly quaffing leader Nigel Farage, a colourful counterpoint to Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. In response, some Tories want London Mayor Boris Johnson made party chairman, a role that doesn’t have to include being an MP. It’s clever thinking, and someone else clever seems to have already sussed it.

Michael Gove is the top Tory that Farage has endorsed as someone with whom he could do business. Gove is high-brow but low-profile. But there’s evidence he’s on a carefully constructed course to becoming a “character” to rival BoJo.

At last year’s Conservative conference he dumped contact lenses and was suddenly sporting specs again. Very visible ones that changed his look from one children’s TV puppet Pob to another Brains from Thunderbirds.

Then came the revelation that he’s learning to play the ukulele. Now if that were the only qualification for high office George Formby lest we forget, a man who single-handedly took on apartheid in South Africa by refusing to perform his songs making fun of Chinese people to a segregated audience would have ruled over us like a buck-toothed behemoth for decades. But letting that information slip out adds to an image of Gove as more than a wonk.

Last week he described leadership speculation as “bonkarooney”. Up there with Johnson’s “switcheroo”, “Olympo-mania” and “inverted pyramid of piffle”. And on Thursday he made a high-profile speech. The content wasn’t particularly interesting schools should be better, he doesn’t like the teaching unions but he chose some examples to illustrate his talk guaranteed to garner attention.

First he queried whether parents would rather their teenager read Middlemarch or Twilight. Most parents would be happy their teen was reading at all and, anyway, what right has he to tell people what to read? Hasn’t he read 1984?

Then he went on to ridicule trendy teaching methods such as using Disney’s Robin Hood to introduce kids to the Middle Ages or retelling the rise of Hitler as a Mr Men story. The man responsible for the

Mr Happy and Mr Hitler lesson plan now teaches in France. Like the Nazis, he’s spreading his stupid ideas across Europe.

Gove knew using these far-fetched examples would hog headlines and project him as something other than a cardboard cut-out politician. Quite apart from the criticism, it showed he’s in touch by referring to pop culture lodestones like Twilight.

Though when he talked of Angry Birds, instead of the game he may have been referring to Theresa May and Maria Miller the other leadership hopefuls he’s rapidly overtaking.