The artist Bob and Roberta Smith, real name Patrick Brill, is to stand against former Education Secretary and now Tory chief whip Michael Gove at the general election in May.

Speaking to The Independent, the artist said that although Gove was no longer in charge of education, he was standing against him in his solidly Conservative Surrey Heath constituency because he is “the architect” of policies that have downgraded the role of the arts in schools in England.

“He has become a fulcrum to say the arts are really important in this country,” Brill said. “It’s a chance to say a lot of positive things about the arts rather than just bashing politicians.”

He added that his decision to stand was sparked by recent comments by Gove’s successor, Nicky Morgan, who said that studying arts subjects could be detrimental to students’ future prospects. “What she said has got everyone fired up again,” he told the newspaper. “I thought: ‘I’ve got to stand’.”

Brill is unlikely to threaten Gove’s seat – in the 2010 election the Tories secured 57% of the vote, more than double that of the second-placed Liberal Democrats. “The point is to raise the issue of the importance of the arts,” said Brill.

More on

A letter to Nicky Morgan: ‘Art is a universal wealth that no-one can take from us’ – The poet Jo Bell responds to the Education Secretary’s comments about arts subjects

2013 – How was it for you? #4: Bob and Roberta Smith – The artist looks back at a busy year that included the Art Party conference in Scarborough

RA Summer Exhibition: Bob and Roberta Smith’s Syria painting – We report on the artist’s entry in the 2014 show