Hypocrite? Storm over Gove’s past cocaine use

By Gove: “It was a mistake. I look back and I think I wish I hadn’t done that.” © Getty

Does hypocrisy matter? Tory leadership candidate Michael Gove says he “deeply regrets” taking cocaine 20 years ago. According to his party’s policy, he should go to prison for seven years.

“Gove, drug hypocrite” declared the front page of yesterday’s Mail on Sunday. “Race for PM goes to pot” screamed The Sunday Mirror.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove is currently the second-favourite to be Britain’s new prime minister. But this weekend, he found himself at the centre of a storm over politicians’ drug use.

A new book by the journalist Owen Bennett describes a moment during the 2016 Conservative leadership contest. Gove was being quizzed by his advisers. Had he ever taken drugs? “Yes, cocaine,” he replied.

However, he dropped out of the race before anyone asked him the question, and Theresa May became prime minister instead. Now, she has resigned and Gove is running again. This time, his past has become a major talking point.

Gove took the drugs while working as a journalist in the 1990s. He now says it was a “mistake” that he “deeply regrets”.

But critics have accused him of hypocrisy. In the UK, using Class A drugs can lead to up to seven years in prison.

Few politicians think “that it would have been better for anyone had [Gove] spent a decent chunk of the early noughties in prison”, wrote journalist Stephen Bush yesterday. “Yet the official position of his party, and that of the main Opposition, is that it would.”

Do as I say, not as I do?

This is pure hypocrisy. “It cannot be right that Michael Gove should face no consequences for his own past actions, but that other people have their lives ruined by the war on drugs,” wrote Bush. Gove is saying one thing, while doing another. This is wrong.

But aren’t we all hypocrites? Humans sometimes do things that we know are wrong, or that we regret later. As Gove himself wrote in 1999: “There is a greater sin than hypocrisy. It is the refusal to uphold values because one may oneself have fallen short of them.”

You Decide

  1. Should it be illegal to take drugs?


  1. What is a hypocrite? Write your own definition without looking it up a dictionary. Compare it to others in your class.

Some People Say...

“Hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue.”

La Rochefoucauld, French writer from the 17th century

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Conservative MPs will spend the next few weeks voting on who they want to be their new leader. Eleven candidates are in the race. Once they are down to just two candidates, the 124,000 paid-up members of the Conservative Party will vote between the two. The winner also becomes the new prime minister.
What do we not know?
Who will win the contest. Boris Johnson is currently the favourite to win.

Word Watch

New book
Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry by Owen Bennett is due to be published in July.
A powdered drug that comes from the coca plant.
Class A drugs
The highest class of illegal drugs in the UK, meaning they carry the longest prison sentences. Cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, LSD and magic mushrooms are all Class A drugs. Cannabis, ketamine and amphetamines are all Class B drugs.
The official Opposition is the second-largest political party in the UK, seen as a “government in waiting”. Currently, this is the Labour Party.

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