LONDON — Michael Gove, a senior official in Britain and one of the top contenders to replace Theresa May as Conservative leader and prime minister, has admitted to taking illegal drugs in his youth, calling it “a mistake.”
The revelation is contained in a biography, “Michael Gove: A Man in a Hurry,” by Owen Bennett, a political journalist, that is scheduled to be published in July. The British newspaper The Daily Mail published excerpts from the book on Saturday.
“I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago,” as a young journalist, Mr. Gove, 51, told The Daily Mail on Friday. “It was a mistake,” he added. “But I don’t believe that past mistakes disqualify you.”
The book quotes a source as saying that Mr. Gove admitted to using cocaine to his advisers before the Conservative Party leadership race in 2016, when he had also been a favorite but lost to Mrs. May, according to The Daily Mail.
Matthew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, said this particular revelation about Mr. Gove was unlikely to make much of a difference in the leadership race.
“Personal scandals, indiscretions and revelations are part and parcel of Westminster life,” Professor Goodwin said by phone on Saturday. “It is highly likely that a revelation that somebody has smoked opium or used cocaine would significantly dent a candidate’s chances.”
He said that the selection of the two candidates who will face a vote by party members would be shaped by their position on Brexit, the wing of the party they come from, their domestic policy agenda and whether they plan to diverge from the path Mrs. May has taken. Another factor will be how they plan to fend off the challenges posed by the Brexit Party and the resurgent Liberal Democrats.
Past surveys by the polling site YouGov have suggested that although British voters condemn the use of hard drugs, nearly half of respondents said it was acceptable for people who have taken or continue to take drugs to hold high office.
In the United States, before he ran for president, Barack Obama revealed in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” that he had used alcohol, marijuana and cocaine as a high school student in Hawaii. It was briefly made a topic of contention by an aide for Hillary Clinton, but Mr. Obama was elected president twice.
Mrs. May formally resigned as leader of the Conservative Party on Friday, opening the way for a succession race. Candidates have until Monday to announce their intention to run. Conservative lawmakers will then narrow the field to two, and the party’s membership will vote.
Hanging over the contest is the deadline for Britain to exit the European Union. Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, is considered the top contender to become party leader, and the next prime minister. On Friday, Britain’s high court dismissed a case seeking to prosecute him over accusations that he had lied to the public during the 2016 referendum on Brexit.
Mr. Gove, the environment minister, campaigned for Britain to leave the bloc and has largely backed Mrs. May’s strategy. He was a vocal supporter of Mrs. May, and had urged others in the party to support several iterations of her deal. But through several votes in Parliament, lawmakers repeatedly rejected the plan, leading Mrs. May to step down.
In 2016, when he was a contender for the post, Mr. Gove cast himself as a reluctant candidate who was aware of his own limitations. He said he “did almost everything not to be a candidate for the leadership of this party.”
“Whatever charisma is I don’t have it; whatever glamour may be I don’t think anyone could ever associate me with it,” he said.
Mr. Gove has been a minister for justice, education and youth in the past, and has been in charge of issues like fighting drug abuse in British prisons.
By Saturday morning, Mr. Gove’s name was the top trending term on Twitter in Britain. Users posted memes and photoshopped images of Mr. Gove taking cocaine, as well as stories from the Saturday editions of the country’s main newspapers.
He is not the only candidate to have admitted to using illegal drugs in his youth. Mr. Johnson, 54, admitted in 2008 to using drugs as a teenager. “I think I was once given cocaine, but I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose,” he said, according to The Guardian. “In fact, I may have been doing icing sugar.”
Rory Stewart, 46, who is viewed as a dark horse in the leadership race, has said he smoked opium at a wedding in Iran while trekking around the world, adding that he regretted it.
Another contender, Dominic Raab, told the “Today” show on BBC’s Radio 4 on Saturday that he had inhaled marijuana as a student and did not think that Mr. Gove’s admission would harm his chances in the leadership race.
According to crime statistics, cocaine use is increasing steadily in England and Wales, reaching the highest number in a decade last year: an estimated 875,000 people.
Officials have said that the increasing demand for cocaine had contributed to the rise in violent crime in London, and last summer, Cressida Dick, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, condemned middle-class drug users for fueling the trade.
She said middle-class people would sit around and “happily think about global warming and fair trade, and environmental protection and all sorts of things, organic food, but think there is no harm in taking a bit of cocaine.”
“Well, there is,” Commissioner Dick said. “There’s misery throughout the supply chain.”