Howard unveils new face of Tories

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard stamped his authority on the Conservative Party last night by slimming his Shadow Cabinet in an attempt to create a more effective Opposition to take the fight to Labour.

Although senior Tories insisted the new team was capable of winning the next general election, the shake-up was seen at Westminster as a plan to wage "guerrilla warfare" on Labour with the more realistic goal of sharply reducing Tony Blair's Commons majority.

In a surprise change, Mr Howard cut the number of places in the Shadow Cabinet from 26 to 12, which saw 14 members of Iain Duncan Smith's team demoted to ensure a "more focused" approach. Aides said the aim was to build a stronger team to take on the Government through the media and in the country.

The Tory leader 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 the Government."

Mr Howard's first reshuffle did not all go according to plan. He failed to bring off a highly symbolic reconciliation with Ann Widdecombe, who once said he had "something of the night about him", when she turned down an international development post outside the Shadow Cabinet. She told The Independent: "I have had no direct conversations with Michael Howard. If in any preliminary soundings, the job of international aid had been mentioned, it should be quite obvious that I wouldn't have been able to do it because I have a 92-year-old mother to look after. I cannot globe-trot."

William Hague, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Portillo also rejected job offers. But Mr Howard ensured a role for some of the Tories' "big beasts" by setting up a Conservative advisory council, which will meet him regularly and campaign in the country. Its members will include Mr Clarke, Mr Hague, Mr Duncan Smith, who will speak occasionally from the Tory front bench, and the former prime minister John Major. Mr Clarke backed Mr Howard but said: "I want to see the kind of Conservative Party I can recognise back in government. That means a more moderate Conservative Party that spends more time on domestic policy and is a little less fanatical on Europe."

The 12 members of the Shadow Cabinet will have much bigger portfolios. The winners include Oliver Letwin, who moves from home affairs to become shadow Chancellor; David Davis, who becomes shadow Home Secretary; the moderniser Tim Yeo, who takes over the critical combined post of shadow Secretary of State for Health and Education, and David Willetts, who will draw up the Tory manifesto as head of policy co-ordination. He keeps his work and pensions brief. The only newcomers to the Shadow Cabinet are David Curry, a Europhile ally of Mr Clarke, who will shadow local and devolved government affairs; and the advertising guru Lord Saatchi, who becomes co-chairman of the party with Liam Fox. Theresa May, the outgoing chairman, will shadow Environment and Transport.

There is a return to the front bench for the former defence minister Nicholas Soames, John Bercow and Andrew Lansley.

¿ The Conservative Party may sell its grand headquarters at Smith Square, Westminster, to raise millions of pounds. A Tory source said the plan, which would involve moving to a less salubrious location near by, was one of a number of fund-raising options being considered.