John Major yesterday pressed home his leadership victory over the party's Europhobes by making Michael Heseltine his deputy and deftly tilting his Cabinet towards the centre-left in the most sweeping government reconstruction of his five years as Prime Minister.
In a move which provoked claims from the party's right- wing that Mr Major was paying the price of Mr Heseltine's loyalty and his supporters' delivery of Mr Major's re-election victory, the former President of the Board of Trade emerged as the pivotal figure in an otherwise unglamorous but far-reaching Cabinet shake-up.
The highlights of a reshuffle which brought five new ministers into the Cabinet were the promotion of Mr Heseltine to the role of First Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister and the propulsion of 34-year-old William Hague into the post of Secretary of State for Wales.
Malcolm Rifkind, Douglas Hurd's own clear choice as successor, moves into the Government's top ranks for the first time as Foreign Secretary, leaving the political balance of the three main offices of state largely unchanged. Mr Rifkind's deep reservations about a single currency will ease the disappointment of the mainstream right that the job did not go to Michael Howard.
But making Mr Heseltine First Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister - a post left dormant since it was held by Rab Butler in 1962 - loosens the grip of the party's right on the main levers of power. Mr Heseltine will have a critical role in developing new thinking on policy and campaigning within both the Government and the party between now and the election.
It was acknowledged in Whitehall last night that Mr Major's desire for an enhanced role for Mr Heseltine had been discussed since at least May, and that Mr Heseltine's lengthy visit to Downing Street had been partly to discuss the details.
Mr Major has also used his victory to assert his own choice of Cabinet colleagues more firmly than at any time since he came to power in 1990. Although the price is the elevation of Mr Heseltine to a rank above all other ministers, including Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, Mr Major has at last set him the task of digging the party out of its electoral trough.
Mr Major moved Michael Portillo to defence - a promotion which also limits Mr Portillo's ability to pursue his right- wing agenda on the economy and social issues. But as the hard right of the party reacted with dismay to the reshuffle, one supporter of the leadership contest, Bill Walker, said: "If the Cabinet assumes policies that ignore the 111 that did not support the Prime Minister in the election, then I think his difficulties are greater."
Mr Major rewarded key loyalists in his own campaign team, promoting Ian Lang to head a Department of Trade and Industry enhanced by the addition of the industrial relations and pay functions of the Department of Employment. The DTI also takes over responsibility for science, and employment's training functions go to Gillian Shephard's education department.
Michael Forsyth, the one heavyweight right-winger from the party's Euro- sceptic wing to come into the Cabinet for the first time, is also rewarded for his loyalty to Mr Major by becoming Secretary of State for Scotland. Brian Mawhinney, another rising loyalist, becomes party chairman. As expected, Alastair Goodlad, another key Major loyalist from the centre-left of the party, becomes Chief Whip. But Mr Major was unexpectedly brutal in dropping Jeremy Hanley, the accident-prone, outgoing Tory chairman, from the Cabinet. David Hunt, who disappointed in his role as Whitehall troubleshooter, resigned before he could be offered another Cabinet post.
Mr Major originally floated the appointment of William Hague - the youngest Cabinet entrant since Harold Wilson in 1947 - to the key Treasury post of Chief Secretary. But Mr Clarke is said to have successfully made clear his preference for William Waldegrave on the grounds of his much wider ministerial experience.
The main interest in Mr Major's appointments below Cabinet rank announced last night was that of Sir Nicholas Bonsor, one of the key backbench right- wingers who campaigned for Mr Major over the past fortnight. Sir Nicholas replaces Mr Goodlad at the Foreign Office.
Mr Major said last night that he had appointed a "Cabinet that balances all shades of Conservative opinion" and one "behind which the whole party can and must unite". He insisted: "No other party in our country today can so dominate the intellectual debate about the future of the country."