GLEN OWEN: Liz Truss to banish ‘plotter’ Michael Gove to political Siberia… and is Boris Johnson heading to Ukraine as our envoy?
Michael Gove will languish on the Tory backbenches if Liz Truss wins the keys to Downing Street as punishment for his ‘plotting’, supporters of the leadership frontrunner have claimed.
The former Levelling-up Secretary, who was sacked by Boris Johnson last month for telling him to resign as Prime Minister, is being privately blamed by Ms Truss for the decision by Rupert Murdoch’s Times newspaper to back her opponent Rishi Sunak in the contest – and for ‘playing games’ with MPs’ votes to try to knock her out of the race.
The claim was furiously dismissed by an ally of Mr Gove last night as an ‘absurd conspiracy’.
Ms Truss’s supporters are also understood to have raised concerns about the continuing role of Mr Gove’s former advisers in the Downing Street operation, accusing them of trying to ‘smear’ the Foreign Secretary through official channels.
Mr Gove’s future is one of a series of ‘big beast’ dilemmas facing Ms Truss if she wins the contest on September 5 – not least, what to do with both Boris Johnson and her opponent Mr Sunak.
Mr Gove, a former Times journalist, is on friendly terms with Mr Murdoch, the paper’s 91-year-old proprietor, and has been tipped to take over as editor if his political career hits the buffers in the autumn
Tensions between Ms Truss and Mr Gove built during years of Whitehall turf wars, with the Foreign Secretary suspecting him of plotting against her
Last night senior sources in the Truss camp did not dampen growing speculation that Mr Johnson could be given a role as a special envoy to Ukraine, but played down the idea of Mr Sunak being made health secretary to give him ‘ownership’ of the NHS. ‘There is no plan to offer him anything,’ claimed one source.
Despite an embarrassing blip last week, when Ms Truss hastily U-turned over a plan to regionalise public sector pay – which in effect would have meant pay cuts for workers such as nurses living outside London during the worst cost-of-living crisis for decades – her consistent poll leads in excess of 30 points have led to an intensification in Whitehall discussions about the likely shape of a Truss administration.
Long-term allies and backers will be rewarded with plum jobs: Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who has been an ideological soulmate since their earliest days in politics, is favourite to become Chancellor, with Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke moving to Mr Kwarteng’s current portfolio.
Former candidate Tom Tugendhat would have been guaranteed to succeed Ms Truss as Foreign Secretary if he had backed her before he was eliminated from the contest – but because he waited until she was clear favourite, it is now more like 50-50, according to sources.
This is despite Mr Tugendhat and Ms Truss being privately aligned on the need for radical reforms at the Foreign Office.
Ms Truss would also have to deal with a restless Boris Johnson, who would expect some form of public role in addition to the writing and speech-making that he is likely to pursue
The idea of Rishi Sunak being made health secretary to give him ‘ownership’ of the NHS has been played down. ‘There is no plan to offer him anything,’ claimed one source
Home Secretary Priti Patel is likely to be replaced by Attorney General Suella Braverman, who attracted a strong following from the Right of the party in this year’s leadership contest.
A Truss supporter said: ‘I feel sorry for Priti. If she had backed Liz from the outset, rather than agonise over her own doomed ambitions, she would be secure at the Home Office.’
Tensions between Ms Truss and Mr Gove built during years of Whitehall turf wars, with the Foreign Secretary suspecting him of plotting against her. Mr Gove’s allies insist the suspicions were both misplaced and one sided.
His job as Levelling-up Secretary – with responsibility for smoothing out income disparities across the country – belied his true power in the Government, which led to him being dubbed ‘the octopus’ because his ‘tentacles reach into every department’.
When The Times came out strongly for Mr Sunak early in the leadership contest, Ms Truss made little effort to hide her suspicions about behind-the-scenes machinations.
Mr Gove, a former Times journalist, is on friendly terms with Mr Murdoch, the paper’s 91-year-old proprietor, and has been tipped to take over as editor if his political career hits the buffers in the autumn.
Members of the Truss camp have been told that Robert Thomson, CEO of Mr Murdoch’s News Corp, upbraided his senior newspaper executives for their dismissive stance on Ms Truss.
Last night an ally of Mr Gove said: ‘This account is categorically untrue, and the idea that Michael controls the Times editorial line or that he can tell Rupert Murdoch what to do is an absurd conspiracy and obviously nonsense. Michael expects to remain on the backbenches.’
Mr Gove is also blamed by Ms Truss’s supporters for trying to manipulate the vote by MPs to squeeze her out of the race.
They suspect him, in backing the insurgent anti-woke outsider Kemi Badenoch, of trying to split the vote on the Right to eliminate Ms Truss, before switching his support to Mr Sunak for the final rounds.
If Ms Truss does risk keeping Mr Gove on the backbenches – either directly or by offering him a job too junior for him to accept – he would presumably have to move out of Carlton Gardens, the grace-and-favour London residence given to him when he became Levelling-up Secretary.
The £25 million property, designed by architect John Nash and dating from 1830, contains a ballroom, two dining rooms and a three-bedroom apartment.
It has been the foreign secretary’s official residence since 1945, but Mr Gove was allowed to use it after Ms Truss decided to remain in her family home in Greenwich.
A Gove supporter said last night that Ms Truss should find a place for him in her Government, saying: ‘Is there any Cabinet minister who has delivered more effectively than Michael over the past 12 years. If she was serious about delivery and getting things done, then she would include him.’
Ms Truss would also have to deal with a restless Mr Johnson, who would expect some form of public role in addition to the writing and speech-making that he is likely to pursue.
The idea that he could serve as a special envoy to Kyiv, acting as an intermediary over military assistance and future peace talks, is not being denied by either the Truss or the Johnson camp, given his famously close relationship with the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Sources close to Ms Truss claim reports that Mr Sunak would become Health Secretary were based on a private ‘joke’ about the 1.25 per cent health and social care levy which he introduced while Chancellor – and which has helped Ms Truss to win the battle for the party grassroots’ support.
It means that, if the polls are correct, Mr Sunak might soon be looking at flights to California and the £5million beachfront property he keeps in Santa Monica.
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