Is Michael Gove on the level over Ulster's sponsorship deal?

Tory backstabber has urged Ulster to consider its deal with materials maker Kingspan

Heavens to Murgatroyd! In Michael Gove’s nativity play he has cast himself as one of the caregivers. The little boy in school, who took every embrace and kiss as more than it meant and every slight as less than it was, comes bearing the gift of empathy and compassion.

You might have read that this week, seconds before your iPad became a hot, wet mess when the reflux hit.

The arch Tory backstabber has been given one of those hilarious titles the crazy, warmhearted conservatives deem woke enough for younger members. Gove is UK secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities.

Bojo handed him that one in September. No problem there. Nor was there a problem in condemning Johnson as a person unfit to be prime minister in 2016 only to serve under him by 2019.


These past few weeks Gove has been less "levelling up" and more "levelling with" Mercedes-Benz and Ulster Rugby for their sponsorship deal with the Irish building materials firm Kingspan, Ulster's jersey sponsor and the naming rights holder to Kingspan Stadium.

Some products supplied by the company were used in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower, where, in one of the worst disasters to hit London in many years, 72 people lost their lives in a 2017 fire.

The connection with Kingspan and other issues is currently being investigated. But no thanks to Gove and his colleagues in the city’s Tory Towers.


In November he apologised for leaked reports about Grenfell Tower being prepared for demolition before a Sunday newspaper reported he was “truly sorry” for the “tremendous and justified upset” it had caused survivors, the bereaved and the west London community.

That came after Labour's Lisa Nandy wrote a letter to Gove asking that he take the same principled stance in relation to the decision by the Conservative Party to take millions of pounds in donations from property developers responsible for flats that have been covered in the same hazardous aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding since the fire in 2017. She then pointedly called out the donors.

"This includes European Land and Property which put Grenfell-style ACM cladding on the Paddington Walk development in London, and donated £200,000 to your party in 2019. The development was supported by investors the Reuben brothers. Jamie Reuben, son of David Reuben, personally donated £628,000.

“It also includes personal donations to the prime minister, including a donation of nearly £25,000 from a major shareholder in Arconic, the company that made Grenfell Tower’s combustible cladding in 2017.”

It was Gove who discouraged people from believing in facts, integrity and science. “I think people in this country have had enough of experts,” he said, his hope being public discourse would hug the bottom.

In the Brexit debate his Vote Leave lied to the electorate that the EU was about to ban kettles, which may have come out of a fake fact-checking account his party had previously set up.

Civic responsibility like that comes big among his ranks. Both Gove and Dominic Cummings both drove during the UK lockdown in order “to test their eyesight”.

Accusations of hypocrisy

For Ulster Rugby, the problem is that making a stand on a point of principle one time means that it has to make the stand every time or be open to accusations of hypocrisy.

Paddy Jackson was summarily fired from his job as a player with the Ulster and Ireland rugby team after he was found not guilty in a 2016 Belfast trial, essentially after an investigation was complete.

But the sport took a stand and put itself outside the legal framework to adopt a moral posture. Where did the pressure to do that come from? Sponsors.

Almost 12 months ago, Grenfell United, an organisation supporting victims and survivors of the fire, wrote to Ulster Rugby asking it to consider its sponsorship deal.

It has not acted as swiftly as with Jackson, citing legal obligations that restrained what it – but clearly not Gove – could say while the public inquiry was ongoing. The Mercedes arrangement was just a week old.

“We are deeply aware of the sensitivities raised in recent days, and so we have jointly agreed that it’s not appropriate to move forward at the current point in time,” a spokesman for Kingspan said in a statement as it pulled the Mercedes deal.

But the jurisdictions have always had a different way of looking at things. Jackson is now successfully playing his rugby in London Irish.

The issue is for Ulster, or its sponsor, to work through the “existing active review” and decide, and for everyone – including the bereaved families – to see the crock of ministerial intervention for what it is.

They might consider whether Gove has discovered a true ministerial calling to genuinely help a vulnerable group of people, whether he’s an opportunist scavenging for political carrion, or if it’s all just part of an old playbook, which up to now has been to make a nonsense out of the ideas he has ever pretended to believe in.

He’s as believable as Fran from Love/Hate staggering into a scene with Nidge after a night on the mushrooms and poitín promising that he is there in good faith.

From the school of Tory fantasy facts – "we've built a hospital in nine days, they can do a Brexit deal in nine months" – serious Michael Gove, the second most unserious politician in the world.