I first heard that Boris Johnson had sacked my ex-husband Michael Gove when my son received a text from a friend, says Sarah Vine in the Daily Mail: “Is it true that Boris has fired ur dad?!” We switched off Love Island and got Michael on speakerphone. He said the PM “told me it was time for me to step back. I said, respectfully, ‘Prime Minister, if anyone should be stepping back, it is you.’” My son was delighted, “leaping off the sofa and punching the air”. When I asked Michael what he would do now, he said, simply: “Have a glass of wine and a slice of salami and see what tomorrow brings.”
The problem with Johnson is that he just isn’t a “serious human being”. I first witnessed this years ago, when he was speaking at a fundraiser for his London mayoral campaign. “It was a disaster.” He arrived late and left early, and his “lackadaisical” speech left the audience totally underwhelmed. “He seemed incapable of buttering a bread roll, let alone a room of donors.” When Michael rang him the next day and “gave him both barrels” – I’ve never seen him so angry – Boris was suitably apologetic. “Sorry, Gover, I hear you Gover,” he mumbled, with his “customary bashful charm”. But the incident stuck in my mind.
The other time I witnessed Johnson’s lack of seriousness first-hand was in his 2016 leadership campaign, which Michael initially spearheaded. Everyone “threw themselves into it” – meetings, phone calls, speeches, media rounds and so on. Everyone, that is, except Boris. “He was supposed to meet so-and-so; he didn’t. He was supposed to draft a letter; he didn’t. Make a phone call; didn’t happen.” Sometimes he would just go totally AWOL, “leaving the team scrabbling for excuses”. Things finally came to a head when, at a crucial point in the race, his team “found him holed up at home in the countryside, flipping burgers, drinking rosé and playing cricket with his mates”. That night, Michael came home ashen-faced. “I’ve made a terrible mistake,” he told me. “Boris is a disaster.” And the rest is history.