Tory leadership race: Rival candidates launch campaigns as Gove suffers from cocaine admission fallout

Former Conservative chair Sayeeda Warsi has called on Michael Gove to quit the race

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 10 June 2019 15:03
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Michael Gove says he was 'fortunate' not to go to jail after taking cocaine several times whilst working as a journalist

Leadership rivals Jeremy Hunt, Matt Hancock and Dominic Raab are today launching their campaigns as fellow contender Michael Gove fights to get his bid back on track after his admission of cocaine use.

Launching his campaign on the first formal day of the contest, Mr Gove will say that he is “a serious leader” who is “ready to serve, ready to unite, ready to deliver and more than anything else, ready to lead”.

But Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who chaired the Conservative Party from 2010-12 and served in cabinet alongside Mr Gove, said it was completely inappropriate for him to remain in the contest to be the next prime minister after confirming that he took the class A drug at several social occasions while a young journalist.

Lady Warsi told Channel 4 News: “It cannot be that those that govern us are subject to a lower standard of criminality than those who are being governed. Michael Gove needs to step away from the leadership race. It’s completely inappropriate for him to continue.”

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt will launch his leadership run by saying that at a time of constitutional crisis, Britain needs “an experienced, serious leader”. In a swipe at favourite Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary will say: “We need the art of tough negotiation, not the art of empty rhetoric.”

Mr Hunt will say he has served in the cabinets of both Ms May and David Cameron but would be different to both as prime minister, drawing on his experience as a tech entrepreneur to “fire up our country to be the world’s next Silicon Valley”.

Vowing not to allow the Tories to be defined by Brexit, he will say: “As an entrepreneur I know there is no success without risk. As a patriot, I know there is absolutely nothing our great country cannot achieve.”

Mr Hunt’s campaign received a boost on Sunday night when former home secretary Amber Rudd tweeted her endorsement. “I’m backing @Jeremy_Hunt,” she said. “These are serious times and we need a respected statesman who Brussels will listen to, not more bluster. Jeremy is a winner with a track record of success in business and in government.”

The Tory leadership contenders

The 11 declared candidates need the nominations of eight fellow MPs by the close of applications at 5pm on Monday to enter the succession race. Those who clear this hurdle will then require the backing of at least 17 of the 313 Tory MPs to avoid elimination in the first round of voting on Thursday and at least 33 in the second round the following Tuesday.

A shortlist of two is expected to be produced by 20 June, with the least popular candidates being knocked out in each round of votes. The final choice from these two contenders will be made by around 160,000 party members in a postal ballot, with the new leader and prime minister due to be announced in the week of 22 July.

Mr Johnson has established a clear lead in MPs’ endorsements, picking up influential Brexiteers Steve Baker and Priti Patel as well as cabinet ministers Chris Grayling, Alun Cairns and James Brokenshire to reach at least 56, against Mr Gove’s 33 and Mr Hunt’s 31.

The contest looked set to develop into a battle to secure second place alongside the former foreign secretary on the ballot paper going out to members.

Mr Hancock will promise to defend liberal values against the “nihilism and narrow nationalism” of the internet age.

In his launch to an audience of entrepreneurs, NHS workers and representatives of the creative and tech industries, the health secretary will say: “The mantra of Silicon Valley is ‘move fast and break things’.

“But things that really matter are starting to break. Like our sense of national community. The self esteem of children. The possibility of civilised debate. Our sense of relevance and meaning and belonging in a world of algorithms and machines.”

The liberal values which defeated both fascism and communism are being challenged by massive disruption, he will say.

“We can and must work with this change, master it, bend it to our benefit,” he will say. “Not ‘move fast and break things’ – that’s wrong. My mantra is ‘move fast and make things happen’.”

Hardline Brexiteer Mr Raab will announce plans to put the UK in the forefront of energy, environmental and climate innovation, with a new National Energy Research Centre, an increase in R&D credits to encourage investment in new technology and a £500 million international wildlife fund for nature conservation.

He will say: “We’ve got to look to the future. We’ve got to leave the environment in a better state than we found it. The Luddite Labour party won’t come up with credible answers to climate change.

“So, as Conservatives, we’ve got to harness the power of innovation and technology to forge an energy policy that makes environmental and economic sense.”

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