Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom join the pre-election exodus of Conservative MPs

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Rishi Sunak’s faltering election campaign has been hit by a new round of big Conservative names leaving parliament, with Housing Secretary Michael Gove among those to resign.

Gove’s departure, along with former cabinet ministers Dame Andrea Leadsom, Sir John Redwood and Greg Clark, means the number of Conservative MPs who will not fight for their seats has surpassed the exodus that preceded Labour’s landslide victory in 1997.

On a difficult second day of campaigning for UK Prime Minister, the tally of Conservatives who have declared they will not stand again for Westminster reached 78, almost a quarter of all serving Conservative MPs.

Gove, a great figure in conservative politics, announced Friday night that he would not stand again in his Surrey Heath constituency, where he had a majority of more than 18,000 at the 2019 election.

The Liberal Democrats were targeting Gove’s seat and are also hoping to win Clark’s seat in Tunbridge Wells and Redwood’s seat in Wokingham. All seats are part of the so-called conservative “blue wall”.

Gove’s departure marks the end of a tumultuous political career, in which he led the Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum and ran for the Conservative leadership against Boris Johnson that same year.

A few hours later he was followed out of Westminster by Leadsom, who also stood for the Conservative leadership in 2016, losing to Theresa May. The majority of it in South Northamptonshire is 27,761.

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In 1997, before Sir Tony Blair won a 179-seat majority for Labour, 72 Conservative MPs resigned.

The prime minister faced internal criticism over his campaign launch, which involved surprising the party with his rainy announcement of the July 4 election date and holding the vote before prominent policies on migration and a smoking ban.

A nursery owner told Sunak at a campaign event in Staffordshire that government funding for early childhood education could not cover the costs. Jennifer Hughes said after her conversation with the Prime Minister that she “would be inclined to vote Labour”.

Rishi Sunak visiting Belfast docks
Rishi Sunak visiting Belfast docks © Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer also had to deal with internal tensions, with his party announcing it would expel former leader Jeremy Corbyn minutes after the veteran socialist said he would stand as an independent candidate in its London seat of Islington North.

In 2019, Corbyn led the party to its most catastrophic general election defeat in almost a century with the loss of 60 MPs.

Starmer has largely sidelined more left-wing Labor MPs since taking the leadership in 2020, as part of his bid to bring the party to the center of British politics.

As the Conservatives seek to claw back a 21-point poll deficit with Labour, Theresa May, a former prime minister and also one of the outgoing MPs, urged her party not to accept defeat.

“I spent 13 years in the opposition – you don’t want to do that,” May said, addressing her Conservative colleagues in her farewell speech in the House of Commons. “Go out and fight to make sure a Conservative government is re-elected.”

According to officials, the party is yet to complete the selection process for around 150 seats.

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Conservative campaign headquarters sent emails to potential candidates on Thursday seeking interest for around 100 seats with a 48-hour deadline. Another batch of seats will be announced on Saturday and the party will be eager to complete the process quickly, officials added.

In the wake of Gove’s announcement, Liberal Democrat Treasury spokeswoman Sarah Olney said Conservative politicians were fleeing the blue wall in droves.

“The noise of Tory MPs resigning has grown louder as the days go by; Now it’s deafening.

In total, 121 deputies from all parties have said they will not run again.

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