Hague stakes leadership on sharp right turn

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM Hague yesterday gambled his leadership on a wide-ranging reshuffle moving the Conservative Party further to the right. The Tory leader brought in new faces in the hope of kick-starting the Opposition into a fight back against the Government.

"We have been completely paralysed in the past few months," said one senior Shadow Cabinet figure. "William has told us all we have got to get stuck in. That is what we intend to do."

The reshuffle consolidated the hold of the Euro-sceptics over the heart of the Conservative Party in the Commons, with John Redwood remaining at trade and industry and Francis Maude taking over as shadow Chancellor.

Out went old-guard Brian Mawhinney, home affairs spokesman, and Stephen Dorrell, from education, who voluntarily bowed out. The only frontbencher Mr Hague had to sack was the former government chief whip, Alastair Goodlad.

Lord Parkinson will step down as the chairman of the party, as earlier reported in The Independent, at the annual conference in October.

He will hand over to Michael Ancram, a Scottish Tory aristocrat and former Northern Ireland minister, who is well liked in the party and will act as a foil to the sharper, modernising vice-chairman, Archie Norman, the former boss of the Asda stores chain.

The appointment of Ann Widdecombe to appeal to the Tory grassroots and "get stuck in" to the Government was seen as a shrewd move by Mr Hague, who is hoping that attacking Tony Blair over his promises on health will take the shine off the Government's other policy pledges.

Tory leadership sources claimed that Mr Hague had planned "months ago" to hold the reshuffle yesterday but the timing, coming days after one opinion poll showed his leadership had failed to make any dent on the Government's popularity, suggested that it could be a desperate attempt to get the Opposition out of the doldrums.

The key change came with the promotion of Mr Maude from the culture portfolio to replace the lacklustre Peter Lilley as shadow Chancellor.

Mr Maude, a former Treasury minister and young Thatcherite, was ordered to take on Gordon Brown as the Chancellor prepares to unveil the comprehensive spending review.

Mr Lilley has been given the task, once carried out by Rab Butler, of restoring the intellectual cutting edge of the Conservatives, with new policies for the next election manifesto. His title as deputy leader - previously held by Willie Whitelaw - was presented by the Tory leadership as a promotion.

But it infuriated the Tory left, and upset the right. One Labour MP encountered two Tory MPs having a row at the members' entrance, with one left-wing Tory fuming because Mr Lilley had been promoted against a right-winger, who was angry because he had been demoted. However, Mr Lilley will ensure that the Tories have a right- wing agenda for the next election.

The "newcomers" who consolidated the right-wing shift of the Shadow Cabinet team included former whip David Willetts, a Lilley supporter and policy specialist; Liam Fox (constitutional affairs), and Gary Streeter (international development). Peter Ainsworth, a former Opposition whip, was put in charge of culture.

In further junior appointments, Mr Hague promoted Bernard Jenkin, an arch Euro-sceptic from the back bench to environment under Gillian Shephard; right-winger Alan Duncan as Ms Widdecombe's deputy at health; John Whittingdale, Baroness Thatcher's former aide to the Treasury; and eight new MPs to frontbench jobs, including Oliver Letwin, former member of Lady Thatcher's policy unit, to constitutional affairs.

But pro-Europe MP Quentin Davies was appointed to social security.