Michael Gove goes it alone in Tory leadership race. But can he win?
As Gove dramatically branches out from Boris, one Tory calls the justice secretary a 'c***' who set this up from the start'.
Michael Gove has shocked Westminster by announcing that he is to stand for the Conservative leadership because Boris Johnson lacks the necessary leadership skills to lead the country.
Gove, a darling of the Tory grassroots, has repeatedly denied he wants to be prime minister. But that all appeared to change on Thursday morning.
A statement put out by Gove contained a damning character reference about the man who the justice secretary recently worked so closely with on the Vote Leave campaign.
“I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.
“But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”
Gove said he had therefore decided to put his name forward for the leadership.
“I want there to be an open and positive debate about the path the country will now take. Whatever the verdict of that debate I will respect it. In the next few days I will lay out my plan for the United Kingdom, which I hope can provide unity and change."
Many Tory MPs had expected Gove to form a 'dream ticket' with Johnson. The justice secretary's blast at his fellow Brexiteer comes after his wife Sarah Vine was caught sending an email stating that Gove 'MUST have SPECIFIC assurances from Boris'.
One prominent Boris backer has already moved over to Gove, with skills minister Nick Boles set to chair Gove’s campaign.
But other Boris backers have been considerably less impressed, with one senior Team Boris figure fuming: "Gove is a c*** who set this up from start".
Gove is regarded as having performed well in the referendum campaign, but has he arrived too late to the Tory leadership contest?
Whether he can now seize the Tory crown may depend on whether Gove can persuade some of his closest allies in parliament - such Dominic Raab and Liz Truss – to back away from Boris.
Some of those MPs had signed on with the former London mayor in expectation of the Boris/Gove joint ticket.
Truss recently backed Johnson stating: "Michael gets results. With him on Boris’s team, I am convinced we can get a good deal for Britain."
If enough MPs can be persuaded to make a late swing to Gove then the justice secretary only has to hope that Tory activists, who have the final say, still love him as much as they did just one month ago.
Raab has defected - thus rendering his article in The Sun today immediately out of date.
Picture by: Matt Dunham/AP/Press Association Images