Cameron announces reshuffle
British prime minister David Cameron began his first cabinet revamp since taking power in 2010, dismissing under-performing ministers in a bid to quell discontent in his Tory party as his coalition struggles to overcome a double-dip recession.
Mr Cameron fired environment secretary Caroline Spelman and made justice secretary Kenneth Clarke a cabinet minister without portfolio, according to a person familiar with the decisions.
The premier also dismissed Wales secretary Cheryl Gillan, according to her posting on Twitter. Conservative Party chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi said on Twitter she was also stepping down.
With Britain mired in a second recession since 2009 and the opposition Labour Party ahead in opinion polls, Mr Cameron has come under pressure for a change of course from traditionalists within the Tory party disenchanted with his focus on narrowing the budget deficit.
Dissidents are demanding that their low-tax, low-spending views be better reflected to counter the influence of their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
"It is a delicate balancing act; he must respond to calls from the right to change the balance of the front bench in their favor," Tim Bale, professor of politics at Sussex University, said in a telephone interview.
"On the other hand, he needs to be very, very careful he does actually stamp his authority and not cave in under pressure."
Mr Cameron is trying to keep his coalition on a deficit- cutting course as Bank of England bond purchases shield him from the debt crisis engulfing the euro region. The 10-year UK government bond is at 1.68 per cent. That compares with 2.21 per cent on French debt of a similar maturity and 5.70 per cent on Italian bonds.
The UK economy shrank 0.5 per cent in the second quarter, leaving gross domestic product no higher than when Mr Cameron took office.
Mr Clarke (72) is the oldest Cabinet member and has been a minister in every Tory government since 1972. He served as chancellor of the exchequer under John Major from 1993 to 1997. Working in the coalition formed after Mr Cameron failed to deliver a Conservative majority in 2010 brought out Clarke's "inner liberal," he said. He revamped criminal sentencing policy, arguing there were too many prisoners and re-offending rates were too high.
That earned him the enmity of The Sun newspaper, which campaigned against his "soft justice." Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, joked last year that "we only have five Cabinet ministers, or six if you count Ken Clarke."
Ms Warsi (42) of Pakistani origin, was the first female Muslim to hold a Cabinet-level post in Britain. Cameron appointed her to the the upper, unelected House of Lords in 2007 after she failed to win a seat in the 2005 election in her home town of Dewsbury, northern England.
In March, the London Evening Standard newspaper reported that she faced calls for her resignation after her handling of the defection of a Conservative European Parliament lawmaker to the UK Independence Party. Tories accused her of being out of her depth, the Standard said.
International development secretary Andrew Mitchell will become chief whip in charge of enforcing discipline among Conservative Party lawmakers, according to a statement from Mr Cameron's office in London.
Mr Mitchell (56), who steps down as international development secretary, takes over as chief whip from Patrick McLoughlin. Mr Gillan (60) had threatened to resign over government plans for the HS2 high-speed rail link that is planned to run through her parliamentary district. After concessions, including further tunneling to protect the beauty of the Chiltern Hills, the Conservative Party lawmaker said she would not quit.
Spelman (54) presided over an early government U-turn when she was forced in February 2011 to abandon plans to sell off hundreds of thousands of acres of state-owned woodland amid opposition from environmentalists and the head of the Church of England.
While ministerial "reshuffles" are supposed to allow the premier to reassert his authority, they're fraught with traps. The prime minister must seek to please disparate groups of lawmakers and satisfy egos. Ministers may refuse to quit and lawmakers who are fired or not promoted become potential rebels, waiting to block the government's legislative agenda or becoming more vocal in their criticism.