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Gove edges Johnson out of race to succeed British PM Cameron

Leon Neal, AFP | British Home Secretary Theresa May (pictured left), former London mayor Boris Johnson (centre) and Justice Secretary Michael Gove

Forget the polls and the bookmakers. If the race to succeed British Prime Minister David Cameron as the country’s leader and head of the ruling Conservative Party demonstrated anything on Thursday, it’s that all bets are off.


In a day of unexpected twists and turns, former London mayor Boris Johnson said on Thursday that he will not be running to replace Cameron, who announced plans to resign from office after the UK voted to leave the European Union last week.

The surprising move came shortly after Johnson’s close ally and fellow Brexiter Justice Secretary Michael Gove broke ranks to declare his own candidacy, despite having ruled out the possibility at least three times in the past.

“I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be Prime Minister. That has always been my view,” Gove wrote in a column on the British magazine Spectator’s website. “But I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.”

Gove’s comments dealt a major blow to Johnson, who was previously one of the bookies' favourites to win. But if the day’s events have demonstrated anything, it’s that all bets are now off.

“It’s like we’re in 'House of Cards',” Sarah Pickard, a lecturer on contemporary British civilisation at the Sorbonne University, told FRANCE 24. “Boris Johnson dropped out for a number of reasons. But mostly because Gove, his ally in the ‘Leave’ campaign, declared his candidacy. Gove said that Johnson didn’t have the ‘leadership’ needed, meaning the ability to unite in order to form a government. It was intended to block Johnson.”

‘Theresa May said the right things today’

The drama between Gove and Johnson could potentially play into the hands of another candidate, Home Secretary Theresa May, who also announced that she was running on Thursday.

A low-key supporter of the “Remain” campaign, May promised to honour last week’s vote during her declaration speech.

"Brexit means Brexit," she said. “The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum.”

Mark Garnett, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Lancaster, said that May’s campaign was off to a strong start. “She said the right things today, those were the things Conservatives want to hear,” he told FRANCE 24.

But Garnett added that May’s stance on the issue could shift depending on how events unfold in the coming weeks and months.

“What people say one day is likely to be contradicted because of events outside of their control. Michael Gove said he wasn’t going to run for leader, now he is running for leader. Theresa May says ‘Brexit means Brexit’, well circumstances might mean something else in the not too distant future,” he said.

‘Johnson took the decision, which was an enforced decision’

‘A volatile electorate’

As of Thursday evening, May had confirmed her position as the bookies’ favourite in the race, with bookmaker Ladbrokes putting her in the lead ahead of Gove.

But Garnett warned that her popularity might not last.

“Conservative leadership elections often bring about surprises and the person who is the frontrunner usually finds something very bad happens to them and they end up losing. Now that Theresa May is clearly the frontrunner and the bookmaker’s favourite, one has to wonder whether something might happen to her, whether a Theresa May campaign will run into an anti-Theresa May campaign,” he said.

“This is a very volatile electorate. If I were Theresa May, I’d be rehearsing everything I say very, very carefully ... It’s now hers to lose.”

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