David Cameron uses new cabinet to build ties with Conservative right
Mayor of London Boris Johnson comes into cabinet as minister without portfolio
Prime minister David Cameron poses for a photograph with newly-elected Conservative MPs in London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau - WPA Pool/Getty Images
British prime minister David Cameron has sought to build ties with the right wing of the Conservative Party as he prepares for the renegotiation of the UK’s European Union membership by appointing some of their number to significant places in the Cabinet and other senior posts.
Crucially, he has brought mayor of London Boris Johnson into the cabinet, but without portfolio — which can be taken as a signal of the preferment that will come his way once his time in City Hall comes to an end in 2016.
However, in the meantime, it ensures that Johnson, ever popular with the Conservatives grassroots if less so among older Conservative MPs, will be bound by Cabinet collective responsibility rules.
In particular, Cameron’s move — an illustration, perhaps, of the political dictum that friends should be kept close, but enemies closer – means that Johnson will face a speedy challenge if a Heathrow Airport Commission soon recommends a third runway there.
Chancellor George Osborne has secured advancement for many of his acolytes, including Matt Hancock, who joins the cabinet office and Greg Hands, who becomes the chief secretary to the treasury.
Shapps’s successor is Lord Andrew Feldman, while Essex MP Robert Halfon has been appointed as deputy chairman — a clear signal that the Conservatives are going to woo the working class vote that came to them during the Thatcher era.
In summary, Cameron, helped by the fact that he had extra spaces to fill since the Liberal Democrats are no longer needed to form a majority, has tried to soothe the Conservative right, but also to promote more women.
In some cases, he was able to achieve both ambitions at once, as illustrated by the appointment of the 43-year-old Priti Patel as employment minister, who will have the right to attend cabinet in place of Esther McVey, who lost her seat.
John Whittingdale, who was Margaret Thatcher’s private secretary, becomes culture secretary — an appointment that caused consternation in the BBC given his vocal opposition in the past to the licence fee.
The Conservatives are furious with the BBC — which has to get its royal charter renewed next year – over its coverage of the election campaign, believing that it hindered the Tory campaign.
Whittingdale was judged to have had close links with Rupert Murdoch during the Leveson Inquiry, though some of the criticisms he voiced have been judged to be sound given the Crown Prosecution Service’s failure in a number of high-profile cases.
During a celebration-filled meeting of the Conservatives’ 1922 backbenchers committee, Cameron told them that the promises in the manifesto would be met, now that the Conservatives enjoyed a majority free from the need to compromise.
The election result will strengthen his hand in the negotiations to come with other European Union states about new membership terms for the UK: “We have got a mandate. It’s going to be tough but we have a mandate.”