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‘Not unnatural’ for veteran Tories like Gove to be quitting, minister insists

PA News

The exodus of prominent Tory MPs like Michael Gove and Dame Andrea Leadsom is “not unnatural”, a minister has insisted, amid speculation that Conservatives are quitting Parliament in fear of imminent electoral defeat.

Bim Afolami, whose seat of Hitchin and Harpenden has seen a waning Tory majority in recent years, said the party was “pretty confident here” and denied it had crossed his own mind to stand down ahead of the July 4 polling day.

It comes after Housing Secretary and long-serving Cabinet minister Mr Gove cited the “toll” of public office as he said it was time to let “a new generation lead” following a political career spanning nearly 20 years.

A post-war record of 78 Conservative MPs have stepped down for the summer election as the party languishes behind Labour in the polls, surpassing the previous high of 72 who quit prior to Labour’s 1997 landslide.

Bim Afolami said it is ‘not unnatural’ for people to end their political careers (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Bim Afolami said it is ‘not unnatural’ for people to end their political careers (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

Speaking to Times Radio on Saturday’s morning broadcast round, Mr Afolami said: “Look, it’s not unnatural if you’ve got people who served for 20, sometimes 30 or 35 years in Parliament in their 50s or 60s coming to retirement or indeed retiring completely, that they choose to bring their political careers to a close. I think that’s fine.”

He said he thinks the party has a “good balance” of Tory big beasts like Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and newer MPs like himself, and insisted the mood in his blue-wall seat is one of optimism.

“The Lib Dems are strong but, you know, we’re confident that we’ll hold the seat and we’ll beat them,” he said.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats are hoping to snap up seats in the traditional Conservative heartlands of southern England, with Sir Ed Davey’s party accusing Mr Gove of “running scared” from the prospect of a wipeout.

The Prime Minister’s decision to call a summer election in a rain-soaked statement outside Number 10 surprised many in Westminster, where an autumn poll was widely expected.

Rishi Sunak surprised many in Westminster by calling a summer election (Lucy North/PA)
Rishi Sunak surprised many in Westminster by calling a summer election (Lucy North/PA)

The news has caused disquiet among some Tory MPs fearful of losing their jobs and some ministers are said to have voiced concerns privately about the decision.

Mr Gove’s announcement was shortly followed by arch Brexiteer Dame Andrea, who said she was leaving after “careful reflection” but did not go into detail about the reasons for her decision.

Former prime minister Theresa May, former ministers Sir David Evennett, Greg Clark and Sir John Redwood, and former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi are also among those to confirm they are not running.

A poll by YouGov on Saturday suggested the party’s prospects had improved slightly, with the Conservatives up by one point and Labour down two points, though this would still give Sir Keir Starmer a convincing majority if realised on July 4.

Sir Keir said Mr Gove’s departure showed he had “lost faith” in the Tory Party, telling reporters on the campaign trail in Staffordshire: “Michael Gove has a reputation as a person who could deliver in government… he wouldn’t be getting off the bus if he had faith in what Rishi Sunak was saying.

“It does beg the question that if the likes of Michael Gove has decided that this is going nowhere with Rishi Sunak, why should the voters really put their vote and their trust in Rishi Sunak?”

Parties will be rushing to select hundreds of candidates to contest seats nationwide after the Prime Minister’s shock announcement on Wednesday.

Sir Keir said Labour has “no end” of options and has “the opposite problem” from the Conservatives in that there are too many people putting themselves forward to represent the party.

But he refused to be drawn on whether one of those would be Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott, who lost the whip last year over allegations of antisemitism.

Sir Keir has said a long-running investigation into the veteran MP, following a letter she sent to The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”, will conclude before the election.

“The National Executive Committee will be coming to decisions on the final list of candidates in due course, so you’ll see that when the decisions are taken,” he said on Saturday.

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