Caroline Spelman 'too old' claim denied by Downing Street


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Downing Street has denied accusations David Cameron sacked Caroline Spelman as Environment Secretary because she was too old.

Claims that Mrs Spelman, 54, was told she had to go in this week's reshuffle because of her age emerged on a blog along with suggestions the Prime Minister was drinking wine when he told former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan she was being kicked out of the Cabinet.

No 10 aides denied that Mrs Spelman was axed because she was not young enough but refused to be drawn on whether the PM may have made the comments.

Asked if he disputed the account of the sacking the Prime Minister's official spokesman replied: "I don't want to get into private conversations that the Prime Minister has had with his ministers over the last few days but the answer to the question (was she sacked because she is too old) is no. You asked me whether she was sacked because she was too old and the answer is no."

Downing Street also defended the PM's decision to award knighthoods to four outgoing male ministers but not to any of the reshuffle's female casualties.

Tories James Paice, Edward Garnier and Gerald Howarth and Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey were all handed the honours.

The spokesman said: "He decided to recommend certain people for honours because he thought those individuals had an outstanding record of political and public service."

Earlier Mr Cameron was forced to deny reducing ministers, including Mrs Spelman and Mrs Gillan, to tears as he took the reshuffle hatchet to his government.

He also rejected criticism that he had not promoted enough women to the top ranks.

"There are as many today as there were before the reshuffle," he told ITV's Daybreak.

"Two very talented women left the Cabinet, and two very talented women joined the Cabinet," he said.

"But what you see - obviously I inherited a party with only 19 women MPs - there are now around 50.

"So, big change has taken place. Some very talented women in the junior ministerial ranks - I hope you'll have some of them on the sofa.

"People like Helen Grant, Anna Soubry - stars of the future. They are joining the Government and I hope they'll be working their way up and through it, and you'll see many more women at the top of Conservative politics in the future."

Asked whether he had made anyone cry, Mr Cameron replied: "That is not true, actually."

The Prime Minister also revealed that he juggled the complicated business of reshaping the coalition with trying to write a poem about a "furry bear" for one of his children.

He admitted conducting the shake-up earlier this week was "difficult", and some of the ousted ministers had done "absolutely nothing wrong".

"It obviously is incredibly difficult because there are ministers who had worked incredibly hard, who had done absolutely nothing wrong in their jobs, who were very dedicated.

"But when you have got a huge team of 300 MPs, huge challenges, it is important to bring new people on and bring new people in."

Mr Cameron said his household had been "chaotic" as elder children Nancy and Elwen returned to school after the summer holiday.

"It was pretty chaotic because it had been lovely having the children with us on holiday, and then suddenly they go back," he said.

"The homework is coming thick and fast. I was trying to do a poem on a furry bear while also contemplating all the other things that were going on. It has been quite complicated.

"But I hope it hasn't got in the way of the conduct of government."

During a visit to a new residential development in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, later Mr Cameron was asked to recite the words to Furry Bear but replied: "I can't."

He added: "I was just helping my son write out a poem. I ought to remember more about it but it definitely involved a furry bear."