Michael Gove, Britain’s Secretary for the Environment and candidate for Conservative Party leadership, admitted to repeated cocaine use at social events during his 30s.
Gove served as Justice Secretary between May 2015 and July 2016. During that time he oversaw a prison population that included many people incarcerated for the same activity he now admits to.
Michael Gove: “I wish I hadn’t done that”
In an upcoming biography of the Conservative politician entitled Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry by journalist Owen Bennett, Gove admitted to taking cocaine during a strategy session with his campaign staff. The excersise had been part of his preparation his unsuccessful 2016 bid Conservative Party leadership following David Cameron’s resignation.
“Gove was instructed not to give that answer in public, and told to fall back on the words David Cameron had used when he was running for leader, namely that politicians are entitled to a private life before entering politics,” Bennett’s book says.
A serialization of the book, including the cocaine-use revelation, began publication in the tabloid Daily Mail on Friday.
“I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago,” Gove told the Mail on Thursday night. “At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and I think, I wish I hadn’t done that.
“The book is correct,’ he added. “I did take drugs. It is something I deeply regret. Drugs damage lives. They are dangerous and it was a mistake.
“Certainly when I was working as a journalist I didn’t imagine I would go into politics or public service. I didn’t act with an eye to that.”
Gove is currently one of the leading contenders to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, and (by default) the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Tory MPs will nominate two candidates for leadership, one of whom will be chosen by party members via postal votes. Although nearly a dozen MPs are running for the top job, many pundits have predicted the final two could be Michael Gove and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Gove takes fire on the Sunday shows
Gove appeared on Britain’s most influential “Sunday show,” The Andrew Marr Show, to discuss the revelations.
Marr questioned the apparent hypocrisy of Gove’s stint as Justice Secretary, in which he oversaw a prison population that included people incarcerated for selling and taking the same product Gove had indulged in.
Should Gove have gone to prison for taking cocaine?
Gove replied, “I was fortunate in that I didn’t, but I do think it was a profound mistake and I have seen the damage drugs do. I have seen it close up and I have also seen it in the work that I have done as a politician.
“That is why I deeply regret the mistake that I made,” he continued.
Marr also asked Gove to comment on a statement by Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick, who had previously said that middle-class drug users had “blood on their hands” for financing the trafficking of illegal drugs.
“I hugely respect Cressida Dick,” Gove replied. “One of the things that I would absolutely say is it is a mistake which I profoundly regret. Absolutely.”
When asked if he ever lied about his drug use on his ESTA entry form to the United States, Gove claimed “I don’t believe that I have ever, on any occasion, failed to tell the truth about this when asked directly.”
He dismissed the notion that if he became Prime Minister he could be prevented from visiting the United States in future. UK citizens have been denied US visas on such grounds previously.
The fallout for Michael Gove’s candidacy
Some Conservative Party insiders are accusing Gove of hypocrisy.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, former Conservative Party chairman Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi said, “This case isn’t just about drug taking, it is about trust, it is about hypocrisy of the highest order and it cannot be that we have somebody who is now mired in this issue of trust and hypocrisy feel that it is still appropriate for him to stand as leader of the Conservative Party and a prime minister of this country.”
Few of Gove’s rival Conservative Party leadership candidates are calling him out directly, however. Several have made similar admissions themselves.
- Arch-Brexiteer Dominic Raab admitted to smoking cannabis while a university student.
- Current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has admitted to drinking a “cannabis lassi” while in India.
- International Development Secretary Rory Stewart has admitted to smoking opium while visiting Iran.
- Former leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom has refused to answer questions about drug-use directly, saying, “Everyone is entitled to a private life before becoming an MP.”
The candidate with the most startling relations of past indiscretions is undoubtedly the front-runner, Boris Johnson.
Johnson has admitted to using both cannabis and cocaine while a student at Oxford.
In 2004 the Daily Mirror reported Johnson refused to pay child support or cover the costs of an abortion after an affair with then-colleague Petronella Wyatt resulted in a pregnancy.
During a 2014 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Johnson asserted that voters don’t care about his extramarital affairs.