Right wing commentators branded Michael Gove 'leader-in-waiting' this afternoon after he used his appearance at the Leveson inquiry to launch a full-blooded defence of the British press.
In a tense exchange with Lord Leveson, the education secretary said the inquiry into media standards could produce proposals which would be "worse than the disease".
He said: "The case for regulation needs to be used very firmly before we curtail liberty.
"I'm unashamedly on the side of those who think we must think carefully. The cry 'something must be done' isn't always wise."
Lord Leveson, who appeared more irritated with Mr Gove than he has with any witness during the inquiry, replied: "Mr Gove I don't need to be told about the importance of free speech – I really don't.
"I have made my point about liberty and I'm not going to repeat myself.
"Believe me, I am thinking very carefully."
Elsewhere in the session Mr Gove issued a full defence of Rupert Murdoch, saying he was "a great man". He also spoke out in favour of Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre who he dubbed "one of the most impressive editors of our age".
Mr Gove's historical approach to the subject matter and various witticisms won him enthusiastic support from right-of-centre commentators online, in a manner which bears comparison to Boris Johnson.
"The Socialist Worker and the Morning Star are available on the news stands, they have sporting and literary coverage, but they sell rather less than the Sun or the Mail," Mr Gove observed at one point.
Asked about the existence of spin under New Labour and subsequent governments, Mr Gove replied: "Spin is a term that's been interpreted in many different ways. We've been spin doctors since the Roman Republic."
When Lord Leveson inquired as to why journalists and politicians had become so hated by members of the public, Mr Gove replied: "T'was ever thus. Journalism has always been a rough old trade which attracted non-conformists and rebels."
The education secretary did appear to make one slip-up however, when he admitted free schools might be allowed to earn a profit in a second Tory term – contradicting assurances from the Department of Education.