Michael Gove Steps Down Amid Mass Exodus of MPs Before Election

px Michael Gove at Policy Exchange delivering his keynote speech The Importance of Teaching
Policy Exchange, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Long-serving Conservative cabinet minister Michael Gove has announced he will not stand at the upcoming general election, marking a significant moment in the second full day of campaigning, which has seen a notable exodus of MPs. First elected as MP for Surrey Heath in 2005, Gove reportedly made this decision within the last couple of days. He is the most prominent figure among nearly 80 Conservative MPs who have decided to step down ahead of the July 4 vote, including public health minister Dame Andrea Leadsom. Gove, a close ally of Rishi Sunak, stated that the Prime Minister “has the plan our country needs.”

As Parliament was prorogued and a few government bills were hurried through before the cut-off, several legislative plans were either passed or left in limbo. Notably, plans to reform homeowners’ rights in England and Wales were approved, albeit without the Conservative manifesto promise to significantly reduce ground rents paid by leaseholders. A pledge to abolish no-fault evictions for renters did not make it through, but a bill establishing an independent Infected Blood Compensation Authority did pass. Sunak expressed disappointment that his plan to phase out smoking did not become law in time but promised its return if the Conservatives are re-elected.

Labour leader Keir Starmer, meanwhile, faced criticism for not committing to scrap university tuition fees or repeal the two-child benefit cap, citing a lack of resources. Gove, who had a majority of 18,349 at the last election, sees his Surrey Heath seat as a key target for the Liberal Democrats on July 4. The Lib Dems claimed Gove was “running scared” of their candidate Alasdair Pinkerton, who finished second in the 2019 constituency race. Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem Treasury spokesperson, remarked, “The drumbeat of Conservative MPs stepping down has been getting louder as the days go by – now it’s deafening.”

Gove’s extensive ministerial career began when he first entered the cabinet as education secretary under Prime Minister David Cameron in 2010. He was a leading figure in the Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum, alongside Boris Johnson. Recently, he has been a key member of Sunak’s team as housing minister. While the Prime Minister has yet to comment on Gove’s resignation, he did emphasize his enthusiasm on a whirlwind tour of the UK as part of his first day of campaigning.

In other developments, energy regulator Ofgem announced that consumer bills would drop by seven percent starting in July. Sunak hailed this as evidence that “the economy has turned a corner” and that “our plan is working.” In contrast, Starmer argued that despite the lower price cap, the average family would still pay about £400 ($509) more annually than a few years ago. He proposed that his party’s plan to establish a new “Great British Energy” firm would help lower bills and spearhead a Scottish-led “clean energy revolution.”

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes spent the second day of campaigning in the Highlands, highlighting the difficulties rural Scotland faces due to Brexit and pledging that SNP MPs would advocate for them. In his letter to the local Conservative Association chairman, Gove expressed gratitude to party members for their support over five general elections. He reflected on his upbringing in Aberdeen, mentioning that his adoptive parents instilled in him the belief that “to help others is the greatest gift you can be given.”

Gove acknowledged that he “could never have imagined” having the opportunity to be an MP, let alone serve around the Cabinet table under four prime ministers over 14 years, with a brief interruption during Liz Truss’s premiership. He thanked Lord Cameron for the chance to pursue education reform, Mrs. May for her support during challenging times, and Mr. Johnson for delivering Brexit and initiating the levelling-up agenda. Gove also expressed gratitude to Sunak for asking him to return to government and continue working on levelling up.

Hinting at his personal struggles, including his 2022 divorce from journalist Sarah Vine, Gove admitted, “I also know the toll office can take, as do those closest to me.” He acknowledged that while the chance to serve is wonderful, “there comes a time when you know that it is time to leave. That a new generation should lead.” Reflecting on Brexit, Gove said, “I am proud to have led the Vote Leave campaign alongside Boris Johnson and Gisela Stuart – which secured the largest mandate in modern British history for a vote to leave the European Union and take back control of our political destiny.”

He asserted that the country is stronger with politicians in Westminster controlling laws, borders, and finances. Since 2016, he noted, NHS funding has increased significantly. While admitting to mistakes, Gove emphasized that he has always strived to be a voice for the overlooked and undervalued, fighting for greater social justice and educational reforms that empower individuals to shape their own destinies.

On the campaign trail, Sir Keir committed to participating in two TV election debates with Rishi Sunak. This followed Sunak’s accusation that Sir Keir was avoiding debates, with the Prime Minister expressing his willingness to debate his opponent weekly throughout the six-week campaign.

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