News Commentary/Kevan James
July 7, 2022.
Boris Johnson has fired Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove from his cabinet, after he urged the PM to resign.
A No 10 source said: "You can't have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully tells the press the leader has to go." The PM rang Mr Gove on Wednesday evening to tell him he was sacked. It came at the end of a day when Mr Johnson defied a growing mutiny from his cabinet and calls to stand down.
He told senior MPs on the Commons Liaison Committee it would not be right for him to "walk away" amid economic pressures and the war in Ukraine. And a No 10 source rejected speculation Mr Johnson would announce his resignation in Downing Street on Wednesday, saying the "PM fights on".
Among those who have talked to the PM is Home Secretary Priti Patel, a former close ally, as well as Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, and Welsh Secretary Simon Hart. Mr Hart later resigned from his post, saying he wanted to help Mr Johnson "turn the ship around" but "we have passed the point where this is possible".
Mr Gove has had a fraught relationship with the prime minister, working closely together on the Vote Leave campaign before he derailed Mr Johnson's leadership campaign in 2016 and ran against him. The Surrey Heath MP's sacking prompted another resignation from government in a day that had been marked by dozens.
This time it was Danny Kruger, a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department of Levelling Up, who said he was "very sorry" Mr Gove had been sacked, adding: "As I told No 10 earlier today, it should be the PM leaving office." Mr Gove's departure leaves just one salaried minister, Eddie Hughes, left at the department responsible for Mr Johnson's flagship policy of levelling up. The policy is intended to transform the UK by shifting resources to forgotten communities and transferring power from Whitehall to local leaders.
'Enough is enough'
The crisis engulfing Mr Johnson's premiership began on Tuesday, following the dramatic resignations of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid. They quit within minutes of each other following a row over Mr Johnson's decision to appoint Chris Pincher deputy chief whip earlier this year. In a resignation statement after Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Javid said "treading the tightrope between loyalty and integrity" had become "impossible in recent months". He added: "At some point we have to conclude that enough is enough. I believe that point is now." Their departures have triggered a wave of further resignations, with one in five MPs in government roles quitting their posts.
However, several key cabinet ministers have rallied round the prime minister. And the BBC reports that it has been told Mr Johnson has been stressing to his ministers that "millions" of people voted for him, and questioning whether any of his would-be successors would be able to "replicate his electoral success at the next election".
Meanwhile, Tory party bosses on the executive of the backbench 1922 committee have postponed a decision on whether to change the rules governing a vote of confidence. However, elections to replace the committee have been pulled forward and will now take place next week. Mr Johnson survived such a vote last month, and under the rules as they currently stand he would be immune from another challenge for a year.
On the basis that Michael Gove did indeed tell the PM that it was time for him to go, it is not really a surprise that Johnson gave him the push.
Politics has long been a hive of conflict between those supposedly on the same side but never in modern times, at least to the best of my recollection, has a government been so fractured by clashes like those we are currently seeing.
Leaving aside the previous history between Johnson and Gove, at the heart of the present difficulties is the personal make-up of the present day politician. Michael Gove represents the constituency of Surrey Heath. It is a relatively wealthy part of the country (although it does have it's share of the less financially comfortable) and it has always been Tory. Yet is it rumoured that one of the factors behind Gove's selection was that the local association wanted 'someone of cabinet material' as their MP.
The primary task of any MP is to represent the interests of their constituents - anything else is a bonus. If that is, having your MP as one of the leading lights is such a bonus. And therein lies the key.
Since his selection, Gove has indeed become what Surrey Heath allegedly wanted but is political ambition really a requirement? Michael Gove has gained a reputation, among a significant number of the general population, as being somewhat slippery and not very trustworthy. Is that what the local association wants? And on top of that, he has also separated from his wife as well - perhaps there may be a warning there when it comes to reselection in the not very far away future. Gove's predecessor Nick Hawkins was deselected after leaving his wife.
Broadly speaking, people are growing weary of 'celebrity' MPs, of all parties, who seem to see themselves as immune to the trials and tribulations experienced by ordinary people (no matter what the degree of their wealth and comfort). People are frankly sick and tired of MPs behaving as though they and only they can be MPs.
And given history - something many MPs seem utterly ignorant of - perhaps the local party associations, both Surrey Heath and Uxbridge and South Ruislip, may think twice or even more about who they want to be their MP at the next general election.
One can see the Prime Minister losing his seat at Uxbridge, but under Johnson's leadership, although it is not unprecedented (remember Michael Portillo, serving cabinet minister and leadership candidate in 1997?) the Conservatives have already lost seats with bigger majorities than that currently enjoyed by Michael Gove. Perhaps Surrey Heath may not be quite as safe as it has been.
© Kevan James 2022.
Images - PA Media via the BBC.
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