Major postpones Cabinet reshuffle

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The Independent Online
JOHN MAJOR has given the Chancellor an early Christmas present by making it clear around Whitehall that the expected new year ministerial reshuffle has been postponed until the spring.

The Prime Minister was going to reshuffle the Government early in the new year.

But Mr Major told a friend: 'I have been urged to have a Christmas or new year reshuffle, but I'm not going to. I want some time for things to settle down. There will be nothing until after the Budget and there will be no reshuffle until the spring.'

The press secretaries of the Whitehall ministries were also told this week that they could look forward to their turkey and stuffing without being disturbed by reshuffle stories.

The Prime Minister decided to postpone the reshuffle to silence the press speculation about his Chancellor's future.

The calls for Norman Lamont's resignation were provoked by stories about his visit to a Thresher's off-licence in Paddington. They were fuelled by the disclosure that libel lawyers had been paid pounds 4,400 out of public funds to deal with earlier reports about the removal of a sex therapist who had rented his London home.

Like Nigel Lawson before he resigned, Mr Lamont's position was becoming 'unassailable'. He went on television and said he would deliver the next Budget.

Although he could not say so, he had the Prime Minister's assurance that he would remain in place until after it was delivered. It is unlikely he will remain at the Treasury to deliver the second Budget next Autumn.

The postponement of the reshuffle has been one of the main topics of conversation around the Christmas parties in Whitehall. But not all ministers were pleased by the news. 'That's the last thing we need,' said one disgruntled minister. 'The party needs a shake-up.' Those calling for a ministerial blood-letting never expect their own heads to be on the chopping block.

But the Thatcherite 92 Group wanted to see the new year in with promotions for Michael Portillo, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Michael Howard, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and, from outside the Cabinet, John Redwood, the minister for local government. The right wing have urged Mr Major to dispose of William Waldegrave, the Cabinet minister for the Citizen's Charter, and Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, who are regarded as too 'wet'.

However, the Thatcherites, who now include many new backbench Tory MPs, will be breathing a sigh of relief with Mr Lamont.

The fact that there will be no reshuffle means that Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, who is seen as too pro-Maastricht, will not be going to the Treasury.

Backbenchers and ministers, who packed their bags for the Christmas recess on Thursday, can spend the next three weeks on holiday, without trying to stay close to the telephone.