Duncan Smith allies face axe as modernisers are promoted

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard is set to oust Iain Duncan Smith's key allies from the Shadow Cabinet and promote leading modernisers such as David Willetts and Stephen Dorrell.

He is understood to be ready to axe Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Defence Secretary, John Hayes, the shadow Agriculture Minister, Quentin Davies, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, and Bill Cash, the shadow Attorney General and Constitutional Affairs Secretary.

David Davis is being considered for the defence job, while David Curry, a key pro-European, could return to the agriculture post he occupied briefly under William Hague.

Mr Davis, who was a front runner for the leadership but pulled out in the interests of unity, may even remain shadow Deputy Prime Minister to lead the "No" campaign against John Prescott's regional referenda.

To give Mr Howard extra room to accommodate new faces, Mr Cash's post is expected to be split into its two separate parts. Dominic Grieve is a candidate for the Attorney General post, while Michael Ancram may be moved to fill the constitutional affairs job.

The new Tory leader will seek to balance youth with experience as well as fulfil his pledge to include "all the talents" of the right, centre and modernising wings of the party.

One of Mr Howard's trickiest decisions will be whether to move Mr Ancram from the post of deputy leader and shadow Foreign Secretary. Freeing up his job would create a plum vacancy.

Oliver Letwin is almost certain to move to shadow Chancellor, creating a vacancy at shadow Home Secretary that Mr Howard wants to fill with a "thoughtful" moderniser. Colleagues are urging him to appoint Mr Willetts, currently social Security Shadow. Mr Willetts may in turn be replaced by either Francis Maude or Mr Dorrell. Mr Dorrell, a former Health Secretary under John Major, is keen to return to the front line. Liam Fox, Mr Howard's campaign manager, is favourite to become party chairman, an important role in the run up to the next general election and a means of influencing the grass roots.

Dr Fox's current post of shadow Health Secretary may be filled by Caroline Spelman, a moderniser who has been impressive at international development. Party chairman Theresa May may be offered Ms Spelman's current post.

Eric Forth, one of the very few MPs not to have backed Mr Howard, is expected to resign as shadow Leader of the House. Among those discussed as replacements are Andrew Lansley and Andrew Mackay. Mr Lansley is highly rated for his media skills, and although a rightwinger by instinct, he has recently converted to the modernising agenda.

Another key Duncan Smith ally in the Shadow Cabinet who is expected to be replaced is Eric Pickles, shadow Local Government Minister. Eleanor Laing, the current shadow Minister for Young Children whose house is being used as the Howard campaign HQ, may be offered the job to boost the number of women in the Shadow Cabinet.

Tim Collins, Damien Green, Tim Yeo, John Whittingdale and David Liddington are all expected to remain in their current jobs at transport, education, trade and industry, culture and rural affairs respectively.

Mr Howard is keen to replace Nigel Evans, the shadow Welsh Secretary, but faces the difficulty of having few Welsh MPs.

With effective women at a premium in the party, Julie Kirkbride is highly likely to be offered a frontbench job. Her performances demanding choice on MMR jabs have impressed colleagues.

John Bercow, who resigned from the Shadow Cabinet over the party's opposition to gay adoption, may be brought back. Older MPs such as Michael Jack, a former minister and an ally of Ken Clarke, are also expected to make a return.

MPs from the 2001 intake such as David Cameron, Chris Grayling and George Osborne may be promoted. However, Mr Cameron was appointed to shadow Deputy Leader of the House this year and may be given time to bed down in the job. Other highly-regarded new MPs such as Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London and Westminster, and Andrew Murrison, MP for Westbury, may be given a chance to shine.