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Election prep

Lars Bevanger, Manchester
July 15, 2014

Three new female ministers take seats around David Cameron's cabinet table as the British prime minister launches his most wide-ranging reshuffle yet, with Foreign Secretary William Hague's post going to a Euroskeptic.

Philip Hammond, David Cameron and the Queen
Image: Andrew Milligan - WPA Pool /Getty Images

Cameron has replaced many long-serving senior ministers along with many junior ministers as well as the attorney general. The move comes only 10 months before general elections in which his Conservative Party face serious competition from the opposition Labour Party.

"I think it's a very clever move politically, and it also makes the government look potentially genuinely new, which is a clever thing to do a year before the election when you've been in office for five years," said Jenny Russel, a columnist at The Times newspaper.

"A lot of people might look at this cabinet now and think 'actually, these are new guys. Maybe we should give them a chance.'"

David Cameron will also be keen to establish a solid election team which must start kicking into gear soon in order to close the four-point lead which the Labour Party has on his Conservative Party.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, was moved to the post of Commons chief whip, allowing him space to orchestrate the election campaign.

"Gove is going to be in a full time election campaigning mode, rather than running a department," professor of government and Whitehall blogger Colin Talbot told DW.

"This is all about the election, this is more like an election machine than a government now," he said.

Surprise resignation

The greatest surprise move came late on Monday, when the foreign secretary, William Hague, announced he'd be stepping down and take on the lesser role as leader of the House of Commons.

"By the time of the general election next year, I will have served 26 years in the House of Commons and it will be 20 years since I first joined the Cabinet," Hague said.

"I am stepping aside as foreign secretary in order to focus all my efforts on supporting the government in parliament and gaining a Conservative victory in the general election."

William Hague's replacement, former Defense Minister Phillip Hammond, is a staunch Euroskeptic. Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to repatriate some powers from Brussels and has promised an in-out referendum by 2017 if these demands are not met.

He might be hoping Hammond, known as an impressive operator during his time as defense minister, will be able to deliver on Europe and quiet the vocal anti-EU wing of his Conservative Party.

EU exit

Phillip Hammond last year said he would vote in favor of Britain leaving the EU if "a better solution that works better for Britain" could not be found.

David Cameron also appointed a new attorney general as part of his reshuffle. Jeremy Wright is considered to be more Euroskeptic than his predecessor Dominic Grieve, and some see his appointment, along with that of Phillip Hammond as foreign secretary, as a shift towards an even more Eurosceptic UK government.

William Hague
After over two decades, Hague is winding down his political careerImage: Reuters/Olivia Harris

"We may well see some barbs launched at the European Court of Human Rights by the new attorney general, possibly with backing from the home secretary [Theresa May] who has not really been a fan of that institution in recent years either," Rob Ford, a lecturer in politics at Manchester University, told DW.

"However, with only 10 months left until the general elections I can't imagine there will be any substantive attacks on the institutions, more just headline-grabbing stuff."

More women

The reshuffle was initially described by many in the British media as a cull of middle-aged, white men in favor of younger ministers and more women.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, was replaced by 41-year-old Nicky Morgan. She has risen quickly in the Tory ranks, and will take one of three new female seats: Liz Truss, 38, is the new environment secretary and Esther McVey, 46, continues as employment minister but with the added right to attend cabinet meetings.

Three other female cabinet ministers have stayed on in their jobs. Yet the new make-up of David Cameron's team is still overwhelmingly male.

"There were 27 people who had the right to attend cabinet. Three were women, and three are going to be added to that. That's still going to leave a cabinet that's around three-quarters male," Jenny Russel from The Times newspaper pointed out.

"So let's not get carried away by the idea that women are suddenly doing much better than men - I'm afraid the men are still dominating to actually a pretty disgraceful degree at the beginning of the 21st century."

Fighting for the EU from the back

The longest serving Conservative minister, Kenneth Clarke, also stepped aside on Tuesday. At 74 he had served under Margaret Thatcher and John Major before David Cameron brought him back into government four years ago.

Clarke has long been one of the Tory Party's most fervent EU supporters, and as he left he made it clear he'd stay on as a backbencher in Parliament to fight for Britain's EU membership until a possible in-out referendum in 2017:

"My belief in Britain's membership of the European Union remains as firm as ever and I think the political and economic case is made even stronger in today's globalized economy and dangerously disturbed world. We must not diminish Britain's ability to influence events in the next few decades," Clark told reporters.

The junior coalition member, the Liberal Democrats, are planning a reshuffle of their government ministers later in the year.

Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament in London
Cameron's cabinet remains heavily male, despite the presence of six female ministersImage: Fotolia/stoka79
An anti-EU campaign poster
Cameron put Euroskeptics in key positionsImage: Reuters
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