Michael Gove declares desire to be the “heir to Blair” as speculation over Tory leadership reignites
Michael Gove, the secretary of state for education, told MPs on the Education Select Committee earlier in the week that he was a “great fan” of former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair. Echoing a phrase first coined by David Cameron as part of his attempt to modernise the Tory party before the last election, Gove stated that he wants to be the “heir to Blair.”
Gove’s comment comes at an unfortunate time for the prime minister as, whilst Cameron has been touring America, Westminster has been awash with Tories fighting over Europe with several senior MPs, as well as backbenchers, turning the heat up on their campaign for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Mr Gove has emphasised his opposition to Cameron’s policies on Europe, and last weekend stated that life outside the EU would be “perfectly tolerable [with] certain advantages.” Gove’s tough stance on Europe has led many within the Tory party to get behind him, and it is thought that David Cameron could face a vote of no-confidence in the future.
On Monday, however, Cameron remained firm, telling Channel 4 News that the right thing to do was to “reform the European Union, renegotiate Britain’s place within it and then offer an in/out referendum.”
The education secretary has repeatedly rebuffed any claims that he would mount a leadership challenge, but the issue of Europe appears to have fatally divided the Tory party. This was most evident when 114 Tory MPs, which accounts for approximately more than one in three MPs, last week backed John Baron’s amendment, expressing regret that a referendum on the EU had been left out of the Queen’s speech. One Tory MP told the Telegraph: “The parliamentary party is in a bad way. The leadership vacuum is all anyone is talking about.”
Senior figures both within and outside the Conservative party have put their weight behind Gove as a leadership candidate, following similar calls for Theresa May to mount a challenge earlier in the year. At the moment it seems that even the draft bill on an EU referendum, proposed by Cameron, has done little to silence doubters of his leadership.