Picture emerges of Tory strike basher Michael Gove on the picket line during his OWN walkout

MP Michael Gove striking (Pic:Donald Stewart)

(Pic:Donald Stewart)

A senior Tory who has led fierce criticism of union strike action is pictured here on a picket line - during a walkout of his OWN.

MP Michael Gove, now the shadow schools secretary, tore into the Unite union and striking BA cabin crew last week.

But yesterday he was accused of being a "hypocrite" after it emerged he had cheerfully joined in an industrial dispute during his time working on a regional newspaper.

Gove, now 42, was a bespectacled trainee reporter in his early 20s when he helped man a National Union of Journalists picket line during a yearlong row.

The People's exclusive photograph shows him grinning gleefully while leaning on a placard emblazoned with the words: "NUJ Official Picket, Don't Cross!"

He knelt on the ground with a colleague in front of a line-up of other striking staff - a far cry from his union-bashing stance now.

A woman who remembers him from the NUJ dispute over union recognition, which spanned 1989 and 1990, said: "He was constantly on the picket line and involved in marches.

"It certainly it seems very hypocritical for him to be laying into the unions nowadays."

The picture was taken in Aberdeen, the city where Edinburgh-born Gove grew up and landed a job on the Press and Journal paper after studying at Oxford University.

He stepped in as the strikers' spokesman when the usual shop steward was absent and was recorded chanting: "Management are denying people the chance to be governed by a collective bargaining deal and denying freedom of choice in the workplace."

A former colleague of Gove - now a millionaire representing a safe seat in posh Surrey - said: "Michael was very much a man of the people in those days. It is incredible how much he has changed.

"He wasn't exactly a militant but he certainly didn't hold back from joining in the picketing." Another striker recalled: "He was very entertaining and a good speaker, even back then. Trade union activists would try to arrange it so they were on the picket line with him."

The photo will be a huge embarrassment to Gove, who last week mounted a blistering attack on Labour's links to the giant Unite union.

He claimed Unite had been allowed to influence Labour policy because it pumps so much cash into party funds. And he cited the union's power as the reason Gordon Brown had done so little to stave off the BA strike. Gove joined the Tories at university and entered Parliament five years ago as MP for Surrey Heath. He is a key figure in David Cameron's Notting Hill Set of rising Tory stars and is closely aligned to shadow chancellor George Osborne.

A Tory insider said: "Michael has been chosen to lead the attack on the unions. It might seem a surprise given his past but he is one of Cameron's most trusted lieutenants."

Last year Gove apologised for "mistakes" in his expenses claims and said the scandal engulfing Westminster had dealt a "devastating blow" to trust in politicians.

He came under fire over reports he claimed 7,000 to furnish his London home before "flipping" his address. He paid back the money but denied any wrongdoing.

nick.dorman@people.co.uk

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