David Cameron summoned cabinet ministers on Monday night who are to be sacked or demoted in his first major government reshuffle which will see a comprehensive clear-out of ministers who have failed to deliver and the promotion of a new generation.
Kenneth Clarke, who has been fighting to avoid demotion from his current post as justice secretary to replace Sir George Young as leader of the Commons, was one of the first ministers to see the prime minister in his room at the House of Commons.There were signs on Monday that Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, and Caroline Spelman, environment secretary, will be among the victims. Lansley left the prime minister in despair when he struggled to explain the need for his plans to devolve most of the NHS’s £100bn budget to new GP-led commissioning groups. Spelman has failed to recover from the fiasco of plans to sell of parts of the national forest.
Friends of Clarke, who announced that he was heading off for his traditional curry after his meeting with the prime minister, said it would be a mistake to move the veteran former chancellor. “Ken is presiding over some of the biggest cuts in government – to prisons and to legal aid. But he has neutralised the Prison Officers’ Association and you hardly hear a pip out of the barristers. The prime minister will regret it if Ken goes.”Cheryl Gillan, the Welsh secretary, is also expected to be a casualty. In a sign of what was being dubbed the first Twitter reshuffle, Gillan removed the description of herself as secretary of state for Wales from her personal Twitter profile.
David Jones, the Wales office minister and MP for Clywd West who has been tipped as a possible replacement for Gillan, then mistakenly tweeted: “Well I’ll be darned.” When the ITN anchor Alastair Stewart noticed, Jones tweeted: “@alstewitn slip of the thumb. Was supposed to be a DM in reply to a friend.” The prime minister, who hopes to announce his new cabinet by Tuesday afternoon, is saying that only those who can play a decisive role in the next “delivery phase” of the government can expect to keep their places in the cabinet.
Downing Street confirmed that Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary, will replace Patrick McLoughlin as the government’s chief whip. The appointment of Mitchell, a whip under John Major who has made no secret of his ambition to become chief whip, shows the influence of George Osborne. “George gets his chief whip,” said one senior Tory. Mitchell formed an alliance with the future chancellor while they ran rival campaigns during the 2005 Tory leadership contest.
Mitchell, who managed David Davis’ campaign, invited Osborne to dinner at his country house during the contest.Osborne, who was identified as the most unpopular member of the government in a recent Guardian / ICM poll, was booed when he awarded medals at the Olympic Stadium last night. By contrast Gordon Brown was cheered when he appeared at the Aquatics Centre.The outgoing chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin, will be promoted to a full cabinet post, possibly as transport secretary. The prime minister would like McLoughlin, a former miner and one of the government’s few genuine working class members, to become one of the Tories’ main faces on the television.
One government source said: “The prime minister sees the second half of this parliament as the delivery phase. We want to have people who have a proven record in delivering in their departments.”Cameron also wants to bring into the cabinet and into more junior roles what is being described asa “new generation of MPs”. This is likely to see the likes of Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, joining the cabinet.Members of the 2010 intake of MPs will be promoted into government, though not into the cabinet. “There will be fresh blood into the cabinet,” one source said.David Laws, the former Liberal Democrat chief secretary to the Treasury, is likely to return as an education minister. He may also have a roving policy brief across government. Jo Swinson, Nick Clegg’s parliamentary private secretary, is also expected to be promoted.
Cameron, who knows reshuffles can turn into Westminster soap operas that often go wrong, hopes to ensure the main message of the week will be about delivery and fresh policies to promote economic growth. The prime minister and Nick Clegg are due to make a joint appearance to give details of bills to provide a basis for £40bn to guarantee infrastructure projects and £10bn for house building.The deputy prime minister told MPs the decision to abandon reform of the House of Lords has cleared a space in the calendar to rush through the bills. “The prime minister and I will be making some announcements shortly on how we will use this opportunity of a gap, an unexpected gap in the legislative timetable, in order to push forward things which will help to create growth and jobs in our economy.”
Mitchell will now have his dream job. “This is the man who has always wanted to be chief whip,” one Tory said. “Andrew has modelled himself on Francis Urquhart.” That reference is to the chief whip played by the late Ian Richardson in the television series House of Cards, whose catchphrase was: “You might very well think that; I couldn’t possible comment.”The move for Mitchell came as his former patron, David Davis, challenged the prime minister to impose spending and tax cuts faster.
Davis, who has not sat on the Tory front bench since he resigned from the shadow cabinet in 2008 to fight a byelection on civil liberties, called for phasing out of employers’ national insurance contributions, starting with small companies.He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One: “The problem with the cuts is not the cuts programme itself, it is the speed of it. It is taking too long to take effect. Only 6% of it is under way. If we are going to get the debt levels of the country down, rather than growing by £600bn in this parliament, we have got to get on with it.”
Davis and Mitchell have not been close since the former appalled most members of the shadow cabinet by resigning to fight the byelection.Cameron said: “As chief whip, Andrew will ensure strong support for our radical legislative programme, by working hard to win the argument in the Commons as well as playing a big role in the No 10 team. He will be invaluable as the government embarks on the next, vital phase of its mission to restore our economy to growth and reform our public services.”
Mitchell said: “It has been a huge privilege to serve as part of a coalition which has radically overhauled the way aid is spent and brought a new rigour to British development policy. I am incredibly proud to be part of a government which is improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people and helping the poorest countries stand on their own two feet. I leave [the Department for International Development] with great sadness but I very much look forward to the task ahead.”The reshuffle is unlikely to see a promotion for one of the most high profile members of the 2010 intake of Tory MPs, who account for 49% of the parliamentary party. Zac Goldsmith, the environmentalist and MP for Richmond Park, indicated he would resign as a Tory if the party supports a third runway at Heathrow.
Goldsmith told Radio 4’s World at One: “If we enter the next election with a manifesto which does not rule out expansion of Heathrow, I think the Conservative party would be very badly defeated in areas beneath the flightpath. I personally would not want to stand as a Conservative candidate on a manifesto that is ambiguous on this issue.”He spoke out after Osborne said he favoured an extra runway in the south-east and is to try to build cross-party consensus for the controversial move. – Guardian