Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie claimed Mr Gove hadn’t worked in a department he hadn’t improved, but admitted it would be “difficult” for the senior party figure to return to Cabinet.
The Scotsman spoke to numerous MPs and figures within the party about the former minister, who inspired a revolt over the 45p tax rate cut during Tory conference in Birmingham.
Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced the U-turn on Monday, saying the abolition of the 45p tax rate originally announced in last month’s mini-budget had become a “distraction”.
Both Mr Gove and former transport secretary Grant Shapps had openly spoken out against the plan to cut income tax for people earning more than £150,000 at a time when millions of people are seeing their family finances squeezed
Now the West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MP, Mr Bowie, has insisted it was not a planned move to force a U-turn, but that when Mr Gove “talks, people listen”.
He said: “He is one of the most experienced members to have been in Cabinet and, with an exception of one year, served in every iteration of the Government since 2010.
“There is not a single department when put in charge of he hasn’t left his indelible mark on for the better.
“When Michael expresses an opinion, it’s important to listen to him, and nine times out of ten I find myself agreeing with what he says.”
Mr Bowie also dismissed suggestions Mr Gove was leading a rebellion, insisting the former minister was just using his freedom to look at the state of the party.
He explained: “I don’t know if he is leading, I just think he’s taking this opportunity to look at the broader situation we now find ourselves in.
“I don’t think he’s co-ordinating or fermenting rebellion. He’s just expressing a free opinion now he’s outside the Government.
“Somebody of Michael's ability should always be in government. It’s a real shame he’s not able to carry on with his reforming zeal that we’ve seen in every department since 2010 in this administration. “
Despite this, Mr Bowie suggested the former education secretary was unlikely to return.
He explained: “It would be difficult for the Prime Minister to invite Michael back, but that’s not to say that she shouldn’t.
“I think he’s one of our best performers, and a great mind that we should utilise.”
Other MPs told The Scotsman Mr Gove was “brilliant and knew exactly what he was doing”, but wished he “could pick a better time to start a fight”.
A senior Tory source who worked with Mr Gove described him as a “details man”, who achieved things others could not.
The source said: “He knows how to work in the machine. Getting things done and working with civil service, he can do that in way others can’t.
“Also by and large [he is] incredibly polite. There are abrasive colleagues, but it’s quite hard to get him to lose his rag. I’ve seen it, but it’s quite hard.
“It’s good to have him in a ministerial role delivering, but outside of it, it gives him the flexibility to disengage or engage as much as he wants."
The source suggested Mr Gove wasn’t leading a rebellion, but knew what would happen if he spoke out.
They said: “He’s a wickedly smart person who always knows what he’s doing. He’s not in any way naive, he knows exactly the causes and consequences of his actions.
"I don’t think he’d be leading it, but he’d be looking to make his interventions carefully.”
This view is not necessarily reflected across the party, with many MPs talking of a “mistrust” around Mr Gove. Multiple sources told The Scotsman it was a running joke to count your fingers after shaking his hand.
Others also questioned Mr Gove’s principles, suggesting he had moved to the right to maintain his position.
A Tory source on the left of the party said: “I have plenty of admiration for him.
“But I’m happy to say that a lot of his former liberal/one nation admirers from the [David] Cameron era simply lost patience with the depths to which he was sunk working with culture warriors and hard-right trolls these days.”
One minister told The Scotsman even if they agreed with Michael Gove, it would be better for the party if “everyone needed to just shut up for a bit”.