Tory leadership race: Who is Michael Gove? Can Brexiteer heal Conservative rifts and land Britain's top job?

Will Metcalfe
Race for Number 10: Michael Gove

In a series of in-depth profiles, we take a look at the candidates to replace Theresa May and become Britain’s new Prime Minister.

Michael Gove backed Mrs May’s Brexit deal until her resignation and has spoken at length about the dangers of a no-deal departure. In 2016 he derailed fellow contender Boris Johnson’s bid for Downing Street.

In one sentence:

He’s not widely loved by party or public but he’s held high-profile portfolios including education, justice and environment.

Betting odds:

Fourth favourite at 7/2 (Oddschecker)

How did he vote on Brexit and what does he think now?

Michael Gove voted to Leave the EU campaigning alongside Boris Johnson for Vote Leave. He still supports Leave and backed Mrs May’s deal until the end. He’s repeatedly spoken out against a no-deal Brexit.

Justice Secretary Michael Gove gives a briefing on the EU as part of the Vote Leave campaign at Westminster Tower in London.

Any controversies?

Gove was caught up in the expenses scandal in 2009, after claiming more than £7,000 on a house bought with his wife in 2002.

Had to apologise in October 2017 for making an ill-advised joke where he compared appearing on the Today programme with a sexual encounter with Harvey Weinstein.

Most recently, Gove admitted this month that he’d taken cocaine in his 20s. The Environment Secretary said he used the drug 20 years ago and called it "a mistake". Gove has since insisted his past mistakes should not be held against him as he battles for the keys to Number 10.

Voting history:

He’s backed plans to renew Britain’s nuclear deterrent at every opportunity voting in 2007, 2015 and 2016 supporting the programme.

He voted to Leave the European Union but backed Theresa May’s Brexit bill, he also voted against EU residents’ right to remain.

He has also voted to support airstrikes in Syria to aid the fight against ISIL in 2015, and in 2010 he voted to deploy troops to Afghanistan.

Career to date:

Born in Edinburgh, Gove grew up in Aberdeen and received a 2:1 degree in English from Oxford University, where he was President of the Oxford Union.

He went on to work as a journalist first working as a trainee reporter at the Press and Journal, in Aberdeen, even taking part in strike action as a member of the National Union for Journalists.

In 1996 he joined the Times as a leader writer. He also worked on the Today Programme, On the Record and Channel 4’s long retired show Stab in the Dark.

He also appeared in the 1995 comedy film A Feast At Midnight.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Michael Gove presenting prizes for the Aberdeen Angus Championships as he visits the Stirling Bull Sales at Stirling Agricultural Centre.
Gove, then Shadow Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, gives a speech in front of Conservative leader David Cameron in January 2010. (Getty)

He began his political career when he was elected as MP for Surrey Heath in 2005, under David Cameron he served as shadow housing secretary in 2007.

When the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was formed in 2010 Gove became education secretary, pursuing Labour’s academies programme but by 2013 there was had been votes of no-confidence votes from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the National Union of Headteachers and NASWUT.

Following a reshuffle he became Conservative chief whip in 2014, before moving on to justice secretary following the 2015 election.

His position as a prominent Leave campaigner caused him to fall out with one-time ally David Cameron, this was followed by another significant feud with a fellow frontbencher.

He was Boris Johnson’s campaign manager for his 2016 leadership but on the morning Boris was due to declare Gove withdrew his support and announced his intention to run himself, he finished third in the first round ballot and was eliminated.

What his colleagues say:

George Osborne, former chancellor, Well, I wasn't surprised that Michael Gove jumped because I've known Michael a long time and he's a friend of mine. Lots of people can’t understand why I'm still friends with him. Still friends. I’m a good friend of his. And I've tried to make sure, by the way, that this referendum doesn't shatter all my personal friendships and relationships.”

Rachel Johnson, editor of the Lady, said: “Michael Gove is the man who has said many times that he is prepared to put his principles before his friends, that he will sacrifice anything and anyone on the high altar of his ideology.”

Making his move: Gove leaving his London home last month. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Veteran Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke: “"I do think Michael Gove would do us all a favour if he were to stand down now and speed up the process.

"This kind of public performance is more suited for the election of a student union than it is to be prime minister of this country at a time of grave, grave potential crisis."

Public awareness?

He’s been on the frontline of British politics for the best part of a decade and due to his unpopularity with teachers and the justice system, he’s become a recognisable face.

In his own words:

Speaking at Hay Festival this summer: “I think that I’ve evolved as a politician, but, obviously, we’ll see in the course of the next few days and weeks who people think has what it takes.”

When asked who is the real Michael Gove? “You can always discern a lot from someone’s record but the real thing is the people with whom you have worked, I have deliberately set out to bring people together.”

Did you know?

He was once a member of the Labour Party but says by the time he left home for Oxford University in 1983 he was ‘a Tory’.

However, that didn’t stop him taking part in eight months of strike action while working as a trainee reporter in Aberdeen.