Betting scandal as bad for Tories as Partygate, says Michael Gove

<span>Michael Gove is standing down at the next general election.</span><span>Photograph: Leon Neal/Reuters</span>
Michael Gove is standing down at the next general election.Photograph: Leon Neal/Reuters

The election betting row is as damaging to the Conservatives as the Partygate scandal, Michael Gove has said.

The levelling up, housing and communities secretary was speaking after revelations in the Guardian about a wagers allegedly placed on the date of the general election just before it was announced by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

The Gambling Commission is looking into three people linked to the Conservatives, including one in Sunak’s inner circle, who are accused of being involved.

Gove likened the situation to Partygate, when unlawful gatherings were held at Downing Street during the pandemic lockdown, which led to Boris Johnson’s downfall as prime minister.

Gove told the Times: “It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us. That’s the most potentially damaging thing. The perception that we operate outside the rules that we set for others. That was damaging at the time of Partygate and is damaging here.”

Related: UK election betting scandal: all you need to know about the world of political wagers

He added: “If you’re in a privileged position [close] to the prime minister at the heart of a political operation and you use inside information to make additional money for yourself, that’s just not acceptable …

“You are, in effect, securing an advantage against other people who are betting entirely fairly and without that knowledge. So, if these allegations are true, it’s very difficult to defend.”

Gove accused those involved of “sucking the oxygen out of the campaign”, saying that, just as with Partygate, “a few individuals end up creating an incredibly damaging atmosphere for the party”.

The incident does not reflect on the conduct of the majority of Tory supporters who are selling the party’s “big arguments” on the doorstep, he said. “So it’s both bad in itself, but also destructive to the efforts of all of those good people who are currently fighting hard for the Conservative vote.”

Gove, 56, is standing down as an MP after 14 years serving in government.

“In Formula One terms, I am a bit of a James Hunt,” he said, referring to the British racing driver who, in 1979, quit halfway through the season after losing enthusiasm for the sport and realising his team’s car was uncompetitive.

The former MP for Surrey Heath said he wanted to make way for fresh talent, although that does not include the Reform UK leader, Nigel Farage.

Ruling out any future deal or merger with the party, Gove told the Times: “He [Farage] wants to destroy the Conservative party. That is fair enough as a political position, but that means all Conservatives should beware. He’s not our ally. He’s our competitor and our challenger.”

Instead, Gove believes the future of the Conservatives depends on a new generation of women, including Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, Claire Coutinho, the energy secretary, and Laura Trott, the chief secretary to the Treasury.

He described all three as coming from “non-conventional Conservative backgrounds”, adding they are “very clear-sighted, conviction Conservatives, but without some of the baggage of being involved in the battles of the past”.

He added: “All three have analysis of what we’ve got right and also some of the things that we’ve got wrong in the last 14 years that I think is compelling. So I think that what they bring is a freshness, a vigour, an intellectual clarity, a personal honesty, which will be the future of the party.”