Boris supporters' reputational attacks on Gove will backfire, warn PRs

Personal attacks on Michael Gove by Boris Johnson's supporters, in a bid to derail Gove's chances of becoming Conservative leader, could rebound on Johnson, public affairs experts have warned.

Boris Johnson: Personal attacks on Michael Gove during Gove's leadership bid will backfire, PRs warn
Boris Johnson: Personal attacks on Michael Gove during Gove's leadership bid will backfire, PRs warn
The past two days have seen Gove suffer a barrage of abuse from Johnson’s sister Rachel Johnson, writing in the Mail on Sunday, and Conservative MP Ben Wallace, Johnson’s former campaign manager, in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

Gove has been dubbed a "Westminster suicide bomber" and "political psychopath" by Rachel Johnson, for destroying her brother's chances of becoming Conservative leader by deciding to stand as a candidate last week.

Meanwhile, Wallace has hinted that Gove has a drink problem that makes him unfit to lead the country. 

"Michael seems to have an emotional need to gossip, particularly when drink is taken, as it all too often seemed to be," he wrote.
But the personal attacks will do no one any good, according to Chris White, a former special adviser to William Hague, Andrew Lansley and Patrick McLoughlin during their time as senior government ministers.

White, who left Whitehall last year to join Bellenden as associate director, public affairs, told PRWeek: "It’s inevitable that some people feel extremely hurt and disappointed, or betrayed probably by some of the actions of some people. The lesson I always learned from working in the House and in the whips' office is that personal attacks don’t do any good either for the people they are attacking or for the people who are doing the attacking."

Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at Bircham Dyson Bell, commented: "There are many in the Conservative Party who are desperate to do all they can to ‘do in’ Gove’s leadership bid. The whiff of alcohol is a tried and tested allegation to make about political opponents. The ‘get Gove’ faction know this and combining it with the claims of gossiping is a direct attempt to prove that he is not a politician that the nation can trust."

While Boris Johnson may not be directly responsible for the attacks, he has not stepped in to stop them, claimed Thomson.

Thomson added: "He may not be controlling it but he’s certainly not stopping it. You can kill these things off, so for instance for the first bit of coverage, which was his sister’s one, if he said 'look, I’m not having that kind of stuff', you could make it very clear to supporters quite quickly that that is not the way you want to conduct your politics. That obviously hasn’t happened." 

As for Johnson, he has remained restrained in public. Gove was not mentioned in Johnson’s weekly column in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

The only clue to Johnson’s private thoughts over being betrayed by his former ally was in a single sentence: "People’s emotions matter, when they do not seem to be wholly rational."

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