11/11/2003

Howard appoints downsized shadow cabinet

Michael Howard's vision of broad church conservatism survived his first frontbench selection yesterday as both wings of the party found representation in a reduced shadow cabinet of 12 portfolios.

The modernising element, Teresa May, Tim Yeo and David Curry, were invited to remain as transport, education and local government spokespersons respectively, whilst some old-style Eurosceptic figures like Bill Cash have been left out.

The main benefactors from yesterday were David Davis, who takes on Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Oliver Letwin who opposes Gordon Brown as Shadow Chancellor.

The higher profile losers were Northern Ireland spokesman Quentin Davies and shadow leader of the House Eric Forth (whose post no longer exists) who find themselves returning to the backbenches. Bernard Jenkin and Damian Green were among a number of major IDS appointments who were demoted.

Mr Howard said that his decision to slim down on frontbench portfolio's was a "radical departure from past practice".

"Today's changes represent an explicit recognition that the Conservative Party needs greater flexibility in our Parliamentary structures if we are to be able to challenge the government effectively at Westminster," he said.

"More importantly, these changes will enable us to use the pool of talent we have more efficiently, in order to take our case out to the country and show how Conservative policies can provide a creative, workable and, above all, effective alternative to a failing Labour government."

In addition to the shadow team, Mr Howard appointed a four-man Conservative Party Advisory Council consisting of former leaders John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and former chancellor Kenneth Clarke. The advisory group will meet regularly with Mr Howard to review strategy and policy, and will occasionally be asked to speak from the frontbench.

Rival parties were quick to attack Michael Howard's appointments, and claim that the newlook team was merely a return to the ancien regime of the 80s.

Dubbing the Opposition leader as 'Mr Poll Tax', Labour Party Chair Ian McCartney claimed the Conservatives were returning to "the bad old days of Tory boom and bust".

"Michael Howard’s solution for the challenges of the next century, is to put back together the team that imposed sky high interest rates and cuts to public services on the British people.

"The choice is clear – a future fair for all with Labour or a failed past of cuts, charges and privatisation under the Tories," he said.

Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Chairman Matthew Taylor said that Mr Howard was "bringing back the very people who sank them in the first place".

(gmcg)

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