Politics

There are almost no ministers left in Boris Johnson's flagship 'levelling up' department

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove was sacked by Boris Johnson on Wednesday night, leaving almost no ministers left in the department.

Boris Johnson sits at a dark wood desk with a phone in his hand and serious expression on his face

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been haemoragging support from his party for days. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street

There are almost no ministers left in Boris Johnson’s flagship “levelling up” department after more than 40 ministers and aides resigned from government and Michael Gove, long-time Johnson ally/rival and secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, was spectacularly sacked late on Wednesday.

Only Eddie Hughes, undersecretary for housing and rough sleeping, is left as a fully-fledged minister in the department, meaning there is next to no one left to oversee its functioning of government.

On Gove’s sacking, a No 10 source reportedly said: “You can’t have a snake who is not with you on any of the big arguments who then gleefully tells the press the leader has to go.”

Tim Loughton, Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, put it rather more colourfully when speaking to Sky News.

He said Michael Gove offered Johnson the “metaphorical bottle of whisky and the revolver”.

“Well clearly Boris has downed the whisky and turned the revolver on Michael Gove,” he added. “Who would have believed it?”

Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid resigned from their posts as chancellor and health secretary on Tuesday night, opening the floodgates on more than 40 resignations from government in 24 hours, believed to be the most catastrophic collapse of confidence in a serving prime minister on record.

Gove has been a senior minister in successive Conservative governments since 2010 and led the pro-pro-Brexit campaign alongside Johnson in 2016, before declaring that his campaign partner could not be trusted to govern in the ensuing leadership contest. Gove also stood against Johnson in the 2019 party leadership election which the latter won before a landslide general election toward the end of the year.

But a mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, runaway inflation and seemingly unending string of sexual and misconduct scandals across government have destroyed support for Johnson’s leadership across the country.

A snap poll from YouGov after the resignations of Sunak and Javid found 69 per cent of voters want Johnson gone, and 54 per cent of people who voted Conservative in 2019 feel the same. 

The department for levelling up, housing and communities “supports communities across the UK to thrive, making them great places to live and work”, according to the department website.

Levelling up was a central plank of Johnson’s 2019 election campaign and the “defining mission” of his government.

But inequality has increased since he came into government and the daily functions of government have been all but abandoned as Johnson fights for his political life. Government insiders have described the PM’s current mindset as a “scorched earth” strategy, in which he is prepared to undermine the basic tenets of British democracy and the Conservative party to hold on to power.

Conservative MPs have been calling for Johnson to resign for months. Among the grievances were the Partygate scandal of rule breaking and drunken behaviour in Downing Street throughout the coronavirus pandemic, repeated accusations of lying, allegations of sleaze and corruption, two lost by-elections, and reports that Johnson had turned a blind eye to claims of sexual misconduct by deputy chief whip Chris Pincher before his appointment, which came to a head after Pincher resigned from the post amid further allegations of drunkenness and “groping” two men. Ministers publicly defended Johnson’s decisions in the Pincher affair with claims which later turned out to be untrue.

“The problem starts at the top and I believe that is not going to change,” said Sajid Javid in the Commons on Wednesday after his resignation, adding: “Enough is enough”.

His speech came at the end of a Prime Minister’s Questions in which Johnson faced mockery and rebellion from his own benches.

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