Tory Spat: May Denies Authorizing Gove Letter Publication

U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May said she didn’t authorize the publication of a letter critical of Education Secretary Michael Gove that highlighted a dispute over combating Muslim extremism.

A senior adviser to May, Fiona Cunningham, quit at the weekend after an argument between the two senior ministers was played out in the U.K. media. Prime Minister David Cameron’s office stepped in on June 7 by saying Gove had apologized for talking to The Times newspaper and Cunningham had resigned for her response.

“I’ve been absolutely clear that I did not authorize the letter going onto the Home Office website,” May told lawmakers in London today in response to questioning from Yvette Cooper, the opposition Labour Party’s home-affairs spokeswoman. May did not specify who gave approval for the publication.

The vehemence of the public clash between May and Gove, both listed by bookmakers as potential successors to Cameron, is a new development for the four-year-old coalition, whose public splits are typically between its Conservative and Liberal Democrat members. It points to souring Cabinet relations less than a year before the next national election.

“The extraordinary thing about this is not just that it’s two Tories, but it’s so personal,” Sean Kemp, a former adviser to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, said in a telephone interview. “It crossed all sorts of lines. It wasn’t really about the politics.”

Government Failures

The dispute went public in a June 4 front-page article in The Times, which said May’s department was failing to fight extremism. Gove acknowledged speaking to the newspaper, which used to employ him, while Cunningham reacted to the story by releasing a letter from May to Gove questioning his department’s failure to act on warnings about schools in Birmingham, central England.

The political scrap follows allegations of a plot by hardline Islamists to take over schools in the city in a bid to radicalize students. Schools in the area have now been inspected by education regulators, who presented an assessment today. Five have been placed in “special measures,” meaning they’ll be regularly monitored.

“There are, of course, questions about whether warning signs have been missed,” Gove told lawmakers today. “We all must acknowledge there has been a failure in the past to do everything possible to tackle non-violent extremism.”

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