Howard names slimmed-down front bench

Tory leader Michael Howard tonight carried out a radical shadow cabinet re-shuffle and restructure, whittling down his main frontbench team to only 12 names.

Oliver Letwin, former shadow home secretary becomes shadow chancellor and ex-shadow to the Deputy Prime Minister David Davis become shadow home secretary.

In a move to surprise Westminster Tim Yeo, ex-shadow trade secretary becomes combined shadow health and education secretaries.

Former party chairman Theresa May remains in the shadow cabinet with the environment and transport portfolios.

Michael Ancram remains shadow foreign secretary and deputy leader.

Mr Howard also appointed David Curry as shadow secretary for local government and devolved affairs, confirmed the appointment of Liam Fox and Lord Saatchi as joint party chairmen, re-instated David Maclean as chief whip in the Commons and asked David Willetts into the shadow cabinet as head of policy co-ordination.

Lord Strathclyde, as Leader of the Lords, completes the shadow cabinet line-up.

Oliver Heald, outside the shadow cabinet is leader of the Commons. Other shadow secretaries of state have also been appointed who will not sit in the shadow cabinet.

Nicholas Soames become shadow defence secretary, John Bercow shadow international development secretary and James Arbuthnot shadow trade secretary.

David Willetts as well as his policy co-ordination role continues as shadow work and pensions secretary and Howard Flight continues as shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

Alan Duncan become shadow constitutional affairs secretary with Julie Kirkbride as shadow culture, media and sport secretary.

Under Tim Yeo, Tim Collins become shadow education secretary and Andrew Lansley shadow health secretary.

Under Theresa May's over-arching responsibilities, Caroline Spelman becomes shadow environment secretary and Damian Green shadow transport secretary. John Whittingdale becomes shadow agriculture, fisheries and food secretary.

Mr Howard said: "This shadow team is a radical departure from past practice. The role of Opposition is very different from the role of Government. There is therefore no reason for the Opposition to mirror the structure of Government."

Mr Howard went on: "Today's changes represent an explicit recognition that the Conservative Party needs greater flexibility in our parliamentary structures if we are able to challenge the Government effectively at Westminster.

"More importantly, these changes will enable us to use the pool of talent we have more efficiently, in order to take our case out to the country and show how Conservative policies can provide a creative, workable and, above all, effective alternative to a failing Labour Government.

"This is especially true of the public services, where our strengthened arrangements will give issues such as health and education the priorities they deserve. Shadow ministers outside the shadow cabinet will of course attend when their portfolios are being discussed."

Mr Howard also reined in some "big hitters" to be part of an advisory council to the leadership.

He said: "As I have repeatedly made clear, I want to make full use of the rich array of talent in the Conservative Party. This team extends well beyond the shadow cabinet.

"I am delighted that John Major, William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke have agreed to form a group which will be part of this Conservative team. We will meet on a regular basis to assess the progress which the Party is making.

"All four of my colleagues have kindly agreed to campaign for the Party in the country. Those who are still in the House of Commons will be invited from time to time to speak from the front bench."