Michael Gove has thrown his support behind Rishi Sunak in the Conservative leadership race, warning that Liz Truss’s refusal to offer more support for rising energy bills and focus solely on tax cuts marked a “holiday from the reality”.
In a sometimes blunt article in the Times, Gove said he did not expect to be appointed minister again and that many people expected Truss to win, but he believes Sunak “makes the right case.”
Arguing that millions of people and large numbers of businesses could be financially crippled by high energy costs, Gove wrote that it was vital that the new government have a coherent economic plan.
“And here I am deeply concerned that the framing of the leadership debate by many has been a vacation from reality,” he said.
“The answer to the cost-of-living crisis cannot simply be to refuse more ‘handouts’ and cut taxes,” he wrote, referring to Truss’s insistence that he would cut national insurance and resist most forms direct help.
“The proposed cuts to national insurance would favor the wealthy, and the corporate tax changes apply to large businesses, not small business owners. I don’t see how safeguarding the stock options of FTSE 100 executives should take precedence over supporting the poorest in our society, but in a time of need, it can’t be the right priority.”
Gove added: “In contrast, I think Rishi makes the right arguments.”
The endorsement of the former communities secretary, a Conservative heavy hitter who has spent more than a decade in the cabinet of David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, will be a blow to Truss, though unlikely to revive Sunak’s campaign.
Gove had initially backed Kemi Badenoch, with whom he worked in the communities department, but who was dropped when MPs narrowed the field of contenders to the bottom two.
Truss, who was a junior minister with him in the education department, is “tenacious, courageous and has a huge appetite for policy detail”, Gove said she had also been “admirably clear, consistent and principled in the case she presented”. during the race for leadership.
He continued: “But I don’t think your prospect is the right answer for the world we’re facing. It does not address the fundamental problems of unserved potential, suppressed productivity, and the vulnerable who suffer the most.”
By backing Sunak, Gove is less likely to win a place in Truss’s cabinet, despite his experience and track record as a trusted minister.
“I don’t expect to be in government again,” he wrote. “But it was the privilege of my life to spend 11 years in cabinet under three prime ministers. I know what the job requires. And Rishi has it.”