LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron reshuffled his ailing coalition government on Tuesday, but unpopular finance minister George Osborne was expected to keep his job.
Andrew Lansley has been replaced as Health Secretary by Jeremy Hunt as part of an extensive government reshuffle.
The move is a promotion for Mr Hunt, who has been under pressure for his handling of the BSkyB takeover bid.
Elsewhere, Chris Grayling replaces Ken Clarke as Justice Secretary and Transport Secretary Justine Greening is controversially moved to another role. London Mayor Boris Johnson criticised Miss Greening’s move, suggesting it heralded a rethink on aviation policy.
Miss Greening - a strong opponent of a new runway at Heathrow - has been replaced by former Conservative Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin after less than a year in the job and will take over the lower profile job at international development.
Unlike Miss Greening, Mr McLoughlin - who was a transport minister under Lady Thatcher and Sir John Major - has “no baggage” over Heathrow expansion. Boris Johnson said the development was a sign the government may rethink its approach to new air capacity in the south of England.
He described her as a “first-rate transport secretary” and said her opposition to Heathrow expansion was the “only possible” reason for the change and promised to fight this all the way. The changes have not affected key figures such as Chancellor George Osborne, Home Secretary Theresa May or Foreign Secretary William Hague - who will all remain in their posts.
Education Secretary Michael Gove and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will also stay in their jobs, with Downing Street saying it wanted these “strong reformers” to continue their work.
Those leaving the government in the shake-up include Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman, Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and Commons leader Sir George Young.
Among notable promotions, Maria Miller and Theresa Villiers join the cabinet as Culture Secretary and Northern Ireland Secretary and Housing Minister Grant Shapps becomes Tory Party co-chairman.
Speaking outside No 10, Mr Hunt said he was “incredibly honoured” to take charge of health. “It is a huge task and the biggest privilege of my life,” he told the BBC. Lansley, the architect of controversial reforms to the NHS in England, has effectively been demoted to the more junior role of leader of the House of Commons.
Clarke also takes a lesser role as minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office, where he will act as a government “wise head” offering advice to Cameron on issues including economic strategy.
He has been replaced by employment minister Chris Grayling, who was shadow home secretary before the 2010 election and is regarded as being to the right of Clarke on justice issues. Clarke denied the move was a humiliation and he was “pleasantly surprised” to remain in cabinet.
He added: “At my age you do occasionally have to step down from a heavy departmental role before you suddenly realise you can no longer quite handle it.”
Among other changes, former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson becomes the new Environment Secretary while Welsh Office minister David Jones has been promoted to Welsh Secretary.
Below cabinet level, Solicitor General Edward Garnier, defence minister Gerald Howarth, prisons minister Crispin Blunt and Children’s minister Tim Loughton have all been axed while policing minister Nick Herbert has resigned after reportedly turning down a move to the Department of Environment. But Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London 2012 organising committee, has been named as a Treasury minister in the Lords and will be given a peerage. All five Lib Dem Cabinet ministers, including Business Secretary Vince Cable, will remain in their posts. But there are changes lower down the Lib Dem ranks, former cabinet minister David Laws - who resigned over his expenses in 2010 - has returned to the government as a junior education minister.
He replaces Sarah Teather, who is leaving the government - along with Lib Dem care services minister Paul Burstow and defence minister Nick Harvey. But there are promotions for Norman Lamb and Jo Swinson, both close to Clegg.
Pressure has been growing on Cameron in recent months with several Conservative MPs accusing the coalition of not doing enough to promote economic growth.
In response to Tuesday’s changes, backbencher Peter Bone said Cameron seemed to be “listening to his party” and the new team had a more “traditional look”. But Labour said there would be no change in economic policy with George Osborne remaining in place.
“This is the no-change reshuffle,” said shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher. “No move for a failing chancellor in charge of a failing economic plan that has delivered a double-dip recession, who gave a tax cut for millionaires and who refuses to tax bank bonuses.”