Ken Clarke calls Cabinet move 'a privilege' as Baroness Warsi, Cheryl Gillan and Caroline Spelman also move in reshuffle

 

Ken Clarke denied today that being moved from Justice Secretary to minister without portfolio was a humiliation in a Cabinet reshuffle that also saw role-changes for Baroness Warsi, Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt.

The 72-year-old Tory "big beast" told reporters: "Being offered a job in the Cabinet at my age? Don't be so daft. It's rather a privilege, I think."

His move was one of the key changes made by David Cameron to his new-look Cabinet today in a reshuffle designed to rejuvenate the coalition Government.

The veteran former chancellor is being given a roving "wise head" role with Cabinet status.

Also losing their present roles are Conservative co-chairman Baroness Warsi, Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan and Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman.

The first two indicated their departures via Twitter while sources confirmed that Ms Spelman was set to leave the top table altogether.

Three female departures will mean Mr Cameron must recruit others from the ranks if he is to maintain his long-held desire to boost the number of women in government.

There is also a return to the front benches for former Liberal Democrat Treasury minister David Laws.

The MP, who was forced to resign over his parliamentary expenses just weeks after taking office, is in line to replace Sarah Teather as education minister, according to sources.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who has had a tough time over NHS reform, is to become Leader of the House of Commons, according to reports.

Work and pensions minister Chris Grayling is replacing Ken Clarke as Secretary of State for Justice, Downing Street said.

Answering questions outside his home, Mr Clarke was upbeat about his move from the Ministry of Justice, where his approach to sentencing of criminals drew criticism from some on the right of his own party.

He said: "I agreed with David (Cameron) when I arrived I would do it for a couple of years, that is the agreement we had when he appointed me and that is what we have stuck to.

"I'm rather pleasantly surprised he has asked me to stay on in the Cabinet doing a different role."

He added: "But I never thought I would be back in the Government in the first place and at my age you do occasionally have to step down from a heavy departmental role before you suddenly realise you can no longer quite handle it."

Asked if the reshuffle was a sign of a move to the right from the Government, Mr Clarke said: "Not remotely, no."

The details of Mr Clarke's new role were still being finalised but he told reporters it would involve the economy and security.

A planned meeting of the Cabinet today was cancelled as Mr Cameron met with senior colleagues to fit the final pieces of the complex reshuffle jigsaw into place.

But when it does meet tomorrow, there will be a raft of familiar faces sat in their usual seats after it was confirmed several key ministers will not be shifted.

Chancellor George Osborne, who was booed last night at the Paralympics, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Home Secretary Theresa May were already considered safe.

But senior Number 10 sources confirmed today that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Education Secretary Michael Gove would also remain in place.

"The Prime Minister considers them key reformers and he wants them to stay in place to get the job done," the source indicated.

The first confirmed appointment of the reshuffle was Andrew Mitchell as the new chief whip - a move disclosed late last night.

Mr Mitchell leaves his post as Secretary of State for International Development to replace Patrick McLoughlin, who is expected to be given a new job, in the key enforcer role for a Tory party that has become increasingly rebellious.

The reshuffle is expected to see ministerial jobs given to a raft of new faces from the 2010 intake as Mr Cameron attempts to build the team he wants around him in the run-up to the next general election.

Although both sides of the coalition have lost key cabinet ministers since the Government was formed in May 2010, this is the first major planned overhaul of the administration.

Mr Cameron has always made clear his dislike of past traditions for regular reshuffles but will hope the changes will reinvigorate his government.

Last night and this morning he held talks with colleagues in his more discreet House of Commons office - seen as a sign of delivering bad news.

He later returned to Downing Street.

Lady Warsi had appealed to the Prime Minister to allow her to carry on in the post but she was widely expected to be moved on.

The peer used her official ToryChairman Twitter account this morning to confirm she was "signing off", saying it had been "a privilege and an honour to serve my party as co-chairman".

Transport minister Theresa Villiers is replacing Owen Paterson as Northern Ireland Secretary.

Owen Paterson has moved from Northern Ireland to become Environment Secretary, Downing Street confirmed.

PA

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