Swing Vote

Michael Gove’s little quip about parliamentary swingers in their mid-50s caught us a bit off-guard this week. As we mentioned back in July, there’s been a persistent Westminster rumour about the Goves hosting some rather specialist parties round at theirs – but we had always assumed it was just that. A rumour. Now? We’re not so sure…

Earlier this week, in advance of the so-called ‘Meaningful Vote’ on Brexit, Michael Gove announced that MPs who still harboured visions of a perfect Brexit were like “mid-50s swingers, waiting for Scarlett Johansson to turn up.

To the regular citizen, such a statement is unlikely to have inspired much of a reaction (at least, nothing beyond the unsettling thought of Michael Gove trying to put the moves on ScarJo).

To the regular Popbitch reader though, it might have caused a rather unwelcome flashback – for this is not the first time their synapses will have fired at the dual suggestion of Michael Gove and swinging.

Back in July 2018, we reported on a curious rumour that was doing the rounds in Westminster that Michael Gove and his wife (the Daily Mail columnist, Sarah Vine) had supposedly been hosting a few specialist parties at their home for selected couples and singletons.

We were careful at the time to report it as being only a rumour. This was not through fear of causing any embarrassment to the Goves (Michael’s a cappella performance of Wham Rap! and Sarah’s nationally published columns prove that the pair of them are physically incapable of being embarrassed). Mainly we were being careful because stories like this are often too good to be true, and usually the work of bad actors who are actively trying to smear their political opponents by spreading irresistibly lurid claims.

However, these recent comments from Gove have started to sow a little doubt in our minds.

Given all the ways he could have described the lunacy of Brexit fantasists, why did the 51 year old Michael Gove choose to hit on the analogy of swingers in their 50s? It’s hardly the most statesman-like of metaphors, and would only really be relatable to a very slim proportion of the public.

Does he know of what he speaks?

It gives us absolutely no pleasure to do this, but we wouldn’t be doing our jobs properly if we didn’t investigate this rumour a little more forensically. The man is a high-ranking government minister and one of the people most responsible for delivering the Brexit result. As such, we really do owe it to the nation to delve into this question a little further.

Is Michael Gove, MP for Surrey Heath and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, a swinger?

Let’s consider the evidence.

Man Of The People

There are no official statistics available regarding the number of practicing swingers in the UK, so we are going to have to figure some of this out for ourselves.

The most recent census (2011) recorded the UK population as being 63.2 million. Approximately 11.9 million of those were children below the age of consent (16) and therefore ineligible to legally engage in any swinging.

That drops our pool of potential swingers to around 51,300,000.

Various studies have been commissioned to determine the prevalence of swinging in Britain and, between them, they tend to put the number of swingers in the UK somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people.

As a percentage of the population who partake in swinging (or swinging adjacent) activity then, we’re looking at 1-2%.

Assuming that the politicians we have elected truly are representative of the people that they serve, that would mean at least six of the 650 members of Parliament who currently have a seat in the House Of Commons should be swingers – and perhaps even as many as double that.

Statistically speaking then, it wouldn’t be that unusual if Michael Gove was indeed a swinger. In fact, if he is at all interested in representative democracy, it could be argued that he actually has a moral duty to swing (at least until such a time as six of his colleagues break cover and declare themselves to be wife-swappers – thereby letting him tap out.)

But the question at hand here isn’t “Should Michael Gove swing?” The question is “Does Michael Gove swing?” – and the numbers alone can’t prove that. To find an answer, we’ll have to look elsewhere for clues.

A Mental Picture

When we first heard the swinging rumour back in July, we noticed that Michael Gove was the subject of a few social media posts – posts which made an awful lot more sense if people were trying to put out word that Gove was active on the swinging scene and courting some attention.

Take this picture from Liz Truss’s Instagram, for example.

It shows Michael Gove posing with a book with the eye-popping title Ploughing A New Furrow. Furthermore, Truss has chosen to publish it with the following caption: “And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…”

There are two very different ways to interpret this.

If you’re not up to snuff on your scripture (and if you’re reading Popbitch, chances are you strayed from the path of light a long time ago) the quote is part of a Bible verse, Isiah 2:4.

The full verse encourages man to lay down his weapons and transfer his war effort into agriculture instead, repurposing the sword as a plough blade and the spears as a pruning hook. It’s a noble sentiment – and one, dealing as it does with the provision of farming equipment, that has some vague crossover with Gove’s DEFRA remit.

However, Liz Truss didn’t post this picture as a way to announce a cut in defence spending to fund new tractors for Britain’s farmers. Nothing of the sort, in fact. So what on earth inspired that particular caption?

Let’s infer a slightly more childish reading of the words: “And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares…”

Whether it’s calling a shagger a “swordsman”, or talking about his “pork sword” (or, more generally, his “weapon”) swords have long been synonymous with penises. The phallic interpretation is further compounded with the suggestion the “sword” be “beaten” – a common euphemism for masturbation.

And what is this “sword” being “beaten” into? A “ploughshare.”

In agricultural terms, a ploughshare is part of a plough – the sharpened element of the moldboard that cuts through soil. In Urban Dictionary terms however, ‘ploughing’ is code for vigorous sex stuff.

A ‘ploughshare’ could therefore be code for some sort of shared sexual partner.

A swinger, in other words.

Could it be that Liz Truss was actively trying to signal to the wider world that her colleague Michael Gove is a swinger? It seems unlikely, but just three months’ previously she did out herself as being a Popbitch reader…

…so who knows?

If this was an isolated incident, we wouldn’t have cause to mention it – but around the same time as this, someone, somewhere, was encouraging Gove to endorse repeated official Government use of the Twitter hashtag #BeaverFever.

Again, it is true that beavers and their welfare do fall squarely under Michael Gove’s remit as the secretary for Environmental Affairs. Of any of our elected officials, he has the most business involving himself with beavers and is therefore most susceptible to catching a dose of Beaver Fever.

It can’t have escaped his notice though that the #BeaverFever hashtag is used for more than just tweets about buck-toothed rodents.

If a politician could move through state school, private school, Oxford, the London media scene and into Parliament without ever once learning that the word “beaver” is famously a slang word for “fanny” and that #BeaverFever might not be the safest thing to promote across government social media channels, then that – quite frankly – is a national embarrassment.

Had the DEFRA employee who chose to put Michael Gove’s portrait next to the #BeaverFever hashtag heard the same rumours we had? Again, we can’t be sure – but the fact remains that he does seem to be attracting a lot of sly jabs about it all from his colleagues.

It takes two to tango though (and even more to swing) so we shouldn’t just confine our clue search to Michael Gove’s output. What of his wife, the other implicated party, Sarah Vine?

The Swinging Vine

You may feel that speculating about a government minister’s sex life at such length is a pretty tasteless thing to do. You may feel it lacks class. We don’t disagree. The only reason we’re happy to do so, and give this many words over to discussion of Michael Gove’s boudoir arrangements, is that we aren’t the first ones to do it.

For years, Sarah Vine has been writing extraordinarily candid columns about some of her most personal experiences – and she hasn’t drawn a line when it comes to sex. Sex that she’s presumably having with Michael Gove.

She hasn’t always been wildly flattering about it either. Take, for example, the column she wrote about the women who claimed they experienced ‘sleep orgasms’. It started off about her sleeping patterns, but very quickly descended into talk about how little she enjoyed banging her husband.

Or what about the column she wrote about how the #MeToo movement has caused the modern man to lose his “raw, masculine edge” which has corresponded with a big drop-off of fun in the bedroom?

Or the time she took the anti-sex stance in a written debate she had with Candida Crewe about sex in your 50s…

Did you notice what all these columns have in common? Apart from suggesting that Michael Gove maybe needs a little more B12 in his diet, there’s a shared thread across them all.

Obviously we know that this is proof of absolutely nothing – but, before you write it off completely, consider this:

As a professional writer, Sarah Vine knows better than most that it pays to be careful with your choice of words. Especially with the type of writing that she does, every sentence is crafted specifically to make a point or to elicit a laugh. Her spiky sense of humour relies on her being extremely precise with the phrases she picks.

So why, then, is it that every time she writes about having sex with her husband she is drawn to using the word ‘swing’ to describe it?

Again, we’d be happy to write this off as simple coincidence if it was an isolated example – but it isn’t.

Late last year Sarah appeared on the Marr Show and derided the male politicians who were making Theresa May’s job difficult because of all the “willy-waving” they’d been doing. “Willy-waving” is not a phrase that she herself has coined. It’s a well-known vulgar turn to mean “showing off”, but it’s one she uses a lot.

The choice is telling – for we have heard from multiple eye-witnesses who say that Michael Gove is no stranger a bit of willy-waving himself. And not the metaphorical sort either. The actual, literal sort.

People who had the grave misfortune of sharing a neighbouring urinal with Gove at a Conservative party conference a few years back report that he had a rather unnerving habit of unzipping his trousers a long way away from the urinal, and sauntering up to the porcelain with his dick out with plenty of time to spare.

Furthermore, once he’d finished, they noted that he would make his way over to the sinks long before he began the process of tucking himself back in – meaning that any and all passers-by in the gents were treated to the sight of his willy, waving.

So if Sarah Vine has been subliminally influenced in her choice of language in that regard, it’s no huge leap in logic to explain why her mind might keep grabbing for the word “swinging” so frequently when discussing their sex life.

The other question it’s probably pertinent to ask here is “Does it matter if Michael Gove is a swinger?” – the answer to which is “No, not really”.

Provided that everyone who attends these parties – which may, or may not, happen – does so with full consent and understanding, then he can share ploughs and beat swords and wave willies until he’s chucking dust. It is of very little consequence to us.

The only slight reservation we have is that swinging parties have previously caused a tiny bit of turmoil in British politics, what with the whole Profumo affair thing in the 60s.

Still, we’re sure Michael Gove wouldn’t be so stupid as to get into bed with friends from outside of Westminster who would later transpire to have hidden and deeply inappropriate connections to undercover Russian operatives; connections that would eventually lead to the resignation of the Prime Minister and the collapse of the government.

Could you imagine?