Conservative Chief Whip Michael Gove described being a journalist as the "best job in the world" yesterday – but declined to say whether he might yet return to the industry.
The former education secretary was speaking at an event celebrating the first anniversary of News UK’s News Academy, a programme set up to introduce young people to journalism.
Gove, who worked for The Times before being elected as an MP ten years ago, accused politicians of "an element of hypocrisy" over the "hard knocks" journalists have had from Westminster in recent years.
And he also appeared to criticise Sir Malcolm Rifkind, one of two MPs caught up in a "cash-for-access" scandal this week following a sting by The Daily Telegraph and Dispatches. Rifkind was subsequently suspended from the Conservative Party, with Gove reported to be in part behind the decision.
Gove has been tipped in Private Eye as a candidate to take over as editor of the Daily Mail when Paul Dacre, 66, retires from the role he has held for more than 20 years.
The suggestion was made in the magazine last year after Gove's register of financial interests entry revealed that he and his wife – Mail columnist Sarah Vine – were guests of Daily Mail and General Trust chairman Lord Rothermere over two days in May in France.
Asked by Press Gazette whether he preferred journalism as a career to politics, Gove said: “Oh, I don’t know. It’s difficult, really. It’s a bit like trying to compare a nice glass of wine and a beautiful sunset. They’re different things.”
Asked whether he might return to journalism, he replied: “At the moment I’m very, very, very, very focused on trying to make sure that we win the election. So I’m not really thinking beyond that horizon.”
And asked about rumours he could become the next editor of the Daily Mail, the former education secretary said: “You should never believe what you read in Private Eye.”
Speaking to the reception about the News Academy, he said: “I loved being a journalist. I think it’s the best job in the world, because being a journalist allows you to indulge your curiosity like nothing else.
“All of us want to know more about the world we live in. All of us have got passions, whether it’s sport, arts, politics – whatever it might be. And all of us are bursting to know more about the things that we care about.
“But so often in life you’re circumscribed from being able to ask those questions – sometimes you don’t have the access, sometimes it’s just plain rude.
“How many of us would have the opportunity to ask [former QPR manager] Harry Redknapp: So, what made you think it was a good idea to buy Rio Ferdinand at the end of his productive career, say it was the biggest signing of the season, and then only give him one run-out for 90 minutes and never play him again? Why on earth should we trust you to make these decisions?
“Or to say to – well, I won’t name any names, let’s just say one of my parliamentary colleagues: So £69,000 a year is not enough money to live on? And you think it’s a good idea to take some money from a Chinese girl you’ve never met before? Why should we trust you with the nation’s intelligence and security?”
He added: “The ability to ask these questions isn’t given to many of us, but it is given to those of us who are or have been journalists. And being able to ask those questions isn’t just the most fantastic fun. It also is a critical public service.”
Gove started in journalism in 1989 on the Thomson Newspapers training scheme. He went on to work for the Aberdeen Press and Journal, Scottish Television, Grampian Television and the BBC before joining The Times. He was elected into Parliament in 2005.
He said: “In the time that I’ve been a politician, it’s been the case that journalists have come in for some hard knocks from people in my trade. And I think there’s an element of hypocrisy about that.
“Because democracies certainly need politicians. We need to take those decision and we need to take responsibility for those decisions. But democracy also needs journalists and reporters. That’s how we’re held to account. That’s how powerful people, whether they’re managing football teams or managing economies, are held accountable for their decisions, so that the public can decide whether or not those individuals should carry on exercising that power and that responsibility.”
He told the News UK reception: “Unless those tough questions are asked, unless investigations go on, unless there’s scrutiny, unless things are published without fear or favour, then democracy can’t work.
“So that’s why all those of you who work in the News Academy, who’ve been through the summer school, who aspire to be journalists, aren’t just embarking on what I think is the most enjoyable and fun career that any young person can have, you are also doing something that is genuine public service.
“And everybody involved in reporting and commenting on the news should never be ashamed of the job they do. You should be proud of the fact that you’re serving the public, that you’re in a noble trade and that you have the opportunity here, thanks to the generosity and vision of a fantastic company, to contribute to making sure that our media remains the best in the world and that we keep those in power honest and accountable.”
News UK chief executive Mike Darcey also delivered a speech at the one-year celebration. He said: “There’s a general notion that young people are disengaged and disinterested in the politics of the country, but regardless of where the responsibility for that might lie, the point I’d like to make is that for the young people in this room – and many that we’ve worked with during the past year – they are the counter-evidence to that view. They’ve proved themselves to be interested, inquisitive, ambitious – and every time I speak with them, I feel a little bit more encouraged about the young people of the country.”
He added: “We are proud that staff from across the business have already invested so much time and effort in the News Academy. News UK is firmly committed to delivering world–class journalism and distinctive content, and this initiative enables us to help and inspire the next generation of those who might one day work in our industry.”
Four alumni (pictured below) of the summer scheme also took to the stage to speak about their experiences to News Academy director Duncan White.
Left to right: Stevie Yessaian, Henry Francis, Shingi Mararike, Anne Fitzsimmons and Duncan White
Each attended the scheme over a week in the summer and worked towards creating a newspaper, Shift.
Stevie Yessaian, 22, told how how quit his job as an estate agent in order to attend the News Academy summer scheme.
As part of the scheme, he interviewed X Factor judge Nicole Scherzinger along with another trainee. This resulted in a story in The Sun newspaper also.
Shingi Mararike and Anne Fitzsimmons worked on the sports side of the newspaper and were both able to attend football matches as part of the scheme.
The fourth to appear on stage was Henry Francis, who co-edited Shift, and was given a front-page byline in The Sun over the summer also.
Francis described the summer school as "phenomenal". He said: "I thought it was brilliant. You don't often get opportunities where you're able to go and have free rein, go and do whatever you want and pretty much make your own paper which is an image of what you collectively want to achieve. And honestly I think every single person who contributed to it did everything that they could to portray what they wanted to put into it."