3 Sep 2012

Cameron must win back authority as MPs return

David Cameron seeks to reclaim the political initiative as MPs return to Westminster this week after a summer marked by an outbreak of internal dissent over his leadership.

The prime minister will seek to reassert his authority over the Conservative Party with his first Cabinet reshuffle since the coalition took office in 2010, while ministers prepare a series of announcements intended to pull the country out of recession.

On Sunday, Mr Cameron declared his determination to end the “paralysis” and “cut through the dither” that was holding the country back.

His comments were seen as a riposte to Tories like London Mayor Boris Johnson who accused him of “pussyfooting around” and Tim Yeo who questioned whether he was “man or mouse”.

Chancellor George Osborne made clear at the weekend that he was sticking to his economic guns, insisting – in an echo of Margaret Thatcher – that “there is no alternative” that offers an easy way out of the current difficulties.

But he promised new Bills to allow the government to use its balance sheet to underwrite new construction projects and to speed up the planning process in an attempt to boost new development.

However, even that is likely to prove controversial with some Tories, as well as their Liberal Democrat coalition partners, after he suggested existing rules could be used to allow building on Green Belt land if an equivalent area of land elsewhere was brought into the protected zone.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron’s party management skills will be put to the test as he seeks to re-boot his government with a reshuffle of his top team.

Many of the most senior figures are expected to remain in their present posts – including Chancellor George Osborne, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Home Secretary Theresa May – leaving limited room for manoeuvre.

Much attention has focused on the key role of Conservative Party Chairman. Baroness Warsi has publicly appealed to Mr Cameron to allow her to carry on in the post, but some Tory MPs want to see her replaced with a big hitter who can galvanise support for the party.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling and Housing Minister Grant Shapps have been touted as possible alternatives from outside the Cabinet.

The reshuffle could also give Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg the opportunity to bring former treasury chief secretary David Laws back in from the cold after he was forced to resign over his parliamentary expenses just weeks after taking office.

But one of Mr Cameron most long-standing critics, Tory right-winger David Davis, is stepping up the pressure on Mr Cameron by using a speech to the Centre for Policy Studies think-tank to set out an alternative strategy.

Mr Davis is calling for a radical programme of cuts to taxes, regulation and public spending to kick-start the economy.