Thu, Sep 06, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Britain’s David Cameron takes a hard right turn

RESHUFFLE:The British PM shifted his government firmly to the right in a government reshuffle that left Liberal Democrat Deputy PM Nick Clegg weakened

Sushil Seth

British Prime Minister David Cameron shifted the political gravity of his government firmly to the right in a substantial government reshuffle that left British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg weakened and guaranteed the prospect of a series of fresh coalition disputes over crime, the environment and business-friendly policies.

In the only serious setback for Cameron and his closest ally, British Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, British Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith insisted on staying in his post, raising the prospect of a battle as the British Treasury demands a second round of big welfare cuts next year to bring the deficit-reduction program back under control.

A heavy-handed British Treasury briefing on Monday night prompted Duncan Smith on Tuesday to reject the offer of succeeding Kenneth Clarke as justice secretary.

Chris Grayling, the tough employment minister, has instead been handed the role and will use the portfolio to challenge European judicial interference in British government decisions.

A senior Conservative minister said: “Overall this is a serious lurch to the right.”

No. 10 Downing Street itself billed the reshuffle, the only major recasting of government planned ahead of the 2015 election, as an attempt to promote ministers capable of delivering on policies already announced. In a symbol of the commitment to delivery, Cameron has appointed London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games chief executive Paul Deighton as treasury minister based in the Lords to deliver infrastructure.

Although No. 10 said the reshuffle did not mean any change in coalition policy, a string of appointments signaled otherwise. Cameron demoted British Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley after the debacle over health reforms in the past year, but surprised many by asking Jeremy Hunt to take up the portfolio.

Hunt has been under relentless Labour attack over his role in News Corp’s attempted takeover of BSkyB, but is rated highly by Cameron for his ability to focus on a clear political message. His first task will be to resell and amend Lansley’s legacy, aided by Grant Shapps, the smooth-talking new Conservative chairman.

The removal of Justine Greening as transport secretary, a fierce opponent of a third runway at Heathrow, and her replacement by the former chief whip Patrick McLoughlin also paves the way for a government shift on aviation expansion, probably though a cross-party commission on aviation policy.

In a blunt assessment even by London Mayor Boris Johnson’s standards, Johnson denounced Greening’s transfer to international development as madness.

He issued a blistering statement praising Greening as “a first-rate transport secretary.”

“Now it is clear that the government wants to ditch promises and send yet more planes over central London,” he said.

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