4 Sep 2012

PM’s reshuffle the work of a big cat – or a mouse?

Several political big beasts are moved but many remain in government. Does Prime Minister David Cameron’s first major reshuffle have the smack of firm leadership?

Former culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has replaced Andrew Lansley as health secretary, while Kenneth Clarke steps down as justice secretary to become a minister without portfolio. Justine Greening moves from transport to DFID.

Mr Lansley, who was responsible for the government’s controversial NHS reforms and had a torrid time guiding them through parliament, becomes leader of the house and is replaced by Jeremy Hunt, the former culture secretary.

Mr Clarke, who is 72 and has served as chancellor, home secretary, health secretary and education secretary, become a minister without portfolio within the cabinet.

He denied this was a humiliation, saying: “Being offered a job in the cabinet at my age – don’t be daft.”

The veteran politician, who is replaced by Employment Minister Chris Grayling, will remain in cabinet and will offer advice to the prime minister on economic strategy. He is one of many ministers being moved or dropped as Mr Cameron prepares for the next general election.


Baroness Warsi loses her role as Conservative co-chairman, but becomes a Foreign Office minister. She is replaced by Grant Shapps.

Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman leave the government, while Justine Greening is moved across the cabinet table from transport, where she was an implacable opponent of a third runway at Heathrow, to international development.

Maria Miller and Theresa Villiers enter the cabinet as culture secretary and Northern Ireland secretary respectively.

Andrew Mitchell replaces Patrick McLoughlin as chief whip. Mr Mitchell leaves his post as secretary of state for international development to take on the role of key enforcer for a Tory party that has become increasingly rebellious. His predecessor Mr McLoughlin is expected to be given a new job.

Mr Cameron used his more discreet Commons office rather than No 10 to begin talking to the government’s most senior members last night.


Baroness Warsi confirmed that she had been removed as Conservative co-chairman on Tuesday, posting this message via her official Twitter account: “It’s been a privilege and an honour to serve my party as co-chairman, signing off @ToryChairman, signing on @sayeedawarsi.”

The reshuffle sees ministerial jobs given to a raft of new faces from the 2010 intake as Mr Cameron attempts to build the team he wants around him in the run-up to the next general election.

Former Liberal Democrat Treasury minister David Laws makes a return to the front benches, succeeding Sarah Teather as education minister, while key figures such as Chancellor George Osborne, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Home Secretary Theresa May remain in place.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith also stay put. Mr Duncan Smith was offered the job of justice secretary, but turned it down.


Mr Cameron praised his new chief whip as “invaluable” to the next phase of the coalition and for making development policy “transparent, focused and highly effective” in his previous role.

The new chief whip faces the tricky task of corralling the Conservative party’s backbenchers, many of whom have found coalition politics increasingly unpalatable.

Traditionally freshly elected MPs toe the party line, fearful of upsetting the leadership and ruining their future chances of promotion, but the 2010 Tory intake have been notoriously outspoken and rebellious.

“I leave the Department for International Development with great sadness, but I very much look forward to the task ahead,” Mr Mitchell said.

Although both sides of the coalition have lost key cabinet ministers since the government was formed in May 2010, this is the first major planned overhaul of the administration.

Meeting cancelled

Mr Cameron has always made clear his dislike of past traditions for regular reshuffles, but will hope the changes will reinvigorate his government.

Much attention has focused on the key role of the Conservative party chairman. Housing Minister Grant Shapps has been touted as a possible candidate from outside the cabinet.

This morning’s planned cabinet meeting has been cancelled but could take place later in the day once the new top team has been finalised.

Although Mr Cameron is ultimately responsible for who sits in the government, under coalition guidelines each party chooses who fills its allocation of posts.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is likely to use the opportunity to bring former Treasury chief secretary Mr Laws back in from the cold after he was forced to resign over his parliamentary expenses just weeks after taking office.

Aside from Mr Laws, Mr Clegg is expected to leave his government team largely intact.