David Cameron is to carry out a "ruthless" reshuffle within days which could see several senior and long-serving cabinet ministers lose their jobs.
The Prime Minister is expected to work on a coalition shake-up when he returns from European talks in Sweden on Tuesday evening. Whitehall is braced for a reshuffle at the end of this week or the start of next. Some of the ministers being considered for the sack are among the most senior ranks, and the reshuffle's timing, coinciding with the start of the World Cup, could lead it to be dubbed "the night of the long dives".
Senior ministers who are thought to be nervous about their position include Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the Commons; the Chief Whip, Sir George Young; the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson; Ken Clarke, the Minister without Portfolio; and the Tory chairman, Grant Shapps. Despite their bitter row, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, are unlikely to be moved or demoted, because such a switch-around would risk escalating tensions between their supporters and trigger a fresh round of bloodletting.
Tellingly, the reshuffle is expected to be restricted to Tory ministers and MPs because Nick Clegg is said to be "happy" with his top team. Yet, in reality, the Deputy Prime Minister, weakened after disastrous local and European election results and a sixth place at the Newark by-election, would be taking a risk by moving any of his ministers. Mr Cameron will promote more female MPs into the Cabinet after repeated criticism that there are more women named Theresa with full cabinet minister status than there are women not called Theresa. Nicky Morgan, the women's minister who has been attending the Cabinet since the last shake-up earlier this year, and Esther McVey, the Work and Pensions minister, could be in line for promotion. Penny Mordaunt, the backbench MP who was described by the PM as a "real parliamentary star" last week, after her address to the Commons following the Queen's Speech brought the House down, is likely to receive a ministerial job, possibly in defence. Liz Truss, the children's minister, is overdue a promotion.
The Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, has been named as a possible replacement for Mr Shapps as party chairman, to help woo back voters from Ukip. But a source close to Mr Pickles says that he is "very happy" in his current role and thinks he will remain. Mr Lansley, who was demoted from health secretary to Leader of the Commons last year, is a potential candidate for Britain's choice of European Commissioner and could be sacrificed to make way for fresh faces.
Top Tories said that Mr Paterson is "very nervous" about his position after enduring "bad floods". Mr Paterson was criticised for his department's response to the winter deluge. One Commons source said that Mr Paterson, after a meeting with farmers, told a backbench Tory MP that it went well and asked the MP if he could "tell David" – suggesting that the backbencher had greater access to the Prime Minister than the Secretary of State.