If you had asked me yesterday to imagine a scenario in which I experienced any kind of warmth towards Michael Gove, well … I won’t say I couldn’t have done it, I’ll just say it would have taken some time. But it turns out all he had to do was go to a nightclub in Aberdeen and dance on his own, and not only did I momentarily forget his drawling self-importance, but the people of Scotland did too. You would think the other revellers would have chased him off the dancefloor, pausing only to spray paint him first, like a fur-coat wearer at an animal rights protest. If Aberdeen is famous for anything but granite, it’s the oil industry – and whatever you think of fossil fuels, that means the city is rammed with experts. So Saturday night could have been the perfect opportunity to express that, maybe, they had had enough of Gove.
Instead, they posed for selfies with him, swapped tall tales (did he, or did he not, try to evade the £5 entry fee by saying he was the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster?) and made the man feel like a visiting and esteemed dignitary to the land of trance and bacchanalia. There’s a Narnia thing, a code of values older than politics; it’s worse than unkind to mock someone who is dancing – it’s also cynical, joyless and where does it end? You would be like that woman who put a cat in a wheelie bin. What else might she dispose of so casually? Your dreams?
In fact, I hadn’t even seen the video of Gove dancing before I was moved to empathy by the fact that he staggered from a pub to the club upstairs at one in the morning, red of face, out of place, lit up like the Commonwealth (yes, I have been looking up olde worlde synonyms for drunk, thank you for noticing). I felt like I had been there (the scenario, I mean, though I have also been to a club in Aberdeen).
Add to that Gove’s recent separation from his wife; newspapers always cover prominent political divorces as if they were slam-dunk scandals, and they must be surprised, though they would never admit it, at how rarely any spontaneous grassroots opprobrium materialises. It’s because disapproval is quite a shallow and, more importantly, abstract emotion, while those of us who have been divorced – and there are tons of us – experience a ravaged empathy that overrides our critical function. We might, on the surface, pretend to be thinking how outrageous it would be that Matt Hancock was paying his girlfriend while snogging her in his office, but our actual internal monologue is all, “Poor him, imagine having to move out with the paparazzi watching when your wife won’t let you into the hall … but then, poor Mrs Hancock … poor Gina Coladangelo, what if only Hancock thought this was a love match? Poor Oliver Bonas (or to give him his real name, Oliver Tress), he must have thought he was too tall for this to happen … Poor kids, they’re going to be reliving this for years.”
Finally, though, it’s because it’s quite hard to feel animus towards someone who likes what you like. There are provisos; if they sound like they are lying – David Cameron and football, for instance – disliking them is even easier, but if the preference is sincere, you’re well into truce territory. I saw Ken Clarke having a curry once and asked him if he wanted to join me and my sister. It was only partly because I thought nobody should have to eat alone if they don’t want to; it was mainly that I was so pleased he liked curry, even though almost everybody does. Anyway, turns out he also likes eating alone, but there were no hard feelings.
People make the point, and I take it, that if you dwell too much on the humanity of senior Conservatives, it’s a failure of solidarity to all the people whose humanity those same Conservatives don’t care about. In the end, though, it’s not about Michael Gove and his moves. It’s about not being hardened by the hardness of others and, it turns out, the clubbers of Aberdeen are a world away from granite.