Sir Ed Davey’s party has set a selection deadline of this week in the “blue wall” south-east constituency of Surrey Heath in preparation for the former minister’s possible departure.
But a Tory source denied that Mr Gove was mulling a departure from the Commons – accusing the opposition party of a “dirty tricks” gimmick to drum up support in the blue wall.
The Lib Dems in Surrey Heath have mailed members to explain nominations for the local selection process end on Wednesday evening, amid reports Gove is thinking about a return to journalism.
“We always work hard to support seats where there might be a possible by-election,” said a Lib Dem source who said the party was on “high alert” in the area.
“Given current rumours about Michael Gove quitting his constituency to return to journalism, it would be natural to ensure that Surrey Heath is election ready,” they added.
The source said the party was also speeding up its selection process in several other target areas across the south held by Tory MPs – including Nadine Dorries’ Mid Bedfordshire seat – where there is a chance of a by-election.
Boris Johnson was said to be considering a peerage for the culture secretary – reportedly ready to depart frontline politics for novel writing – as part of his resignation honours list.
But a Tory source insisted Gove, who was spotted in Ibiza during summer recess, would continue as a backbencher once the leadership contest is over. “Sadly this is yet another example of Lib Dem dirty tricks,” they said.
“They’re more interested in playing politics than delivering for voters. Michael remains absolutely committed to his Surrey Heath constituents and has no plans to stand down.”
Gove holds a large majority of more 18,000 in Surrey Heath, which has been held by the Tories since its creation back in 2001.
But the Lib Dems can point to huge swings in their favour when they defeated the Tories at recent “blue wall” by-elections in Chesham and Amersham, North Shropshire and Tiverton and Honiton.
A party source also pointed to recent local election success in Woking – near Gove’s Surrey Heath seat, and said local issues like the condition of Frimley Park hospital, one of several dozen which has structural problems with its concrete roof.
“Unlike the Conservatives, we never neglect what people are saying locally,” they said. “We take nothing for granted and know winning a seat like this would be very hard work.”
Source: The Independent