David Cameron added a former Cabinet minister, Sir George Young, to his front team today to add much needed "depth and experience" to the Tory leadership.
Sir George, who served in John Major’s Cabinet as Transport Secretary from 1995 to 1997, takes over as shadow leader of the Commons from Alan Duncan, who was sacked for saying during a secretly recorded interview that MPs are living on ‘rations’.
Mr Cameron hinted in July that he wanted to bring some of the older Tories, who can remember what it was like to be in government, back into front line politics.
The promotion of 68 year old Sir George Young means that there are now three former Cabinet ministers in Mr Cameron’s shadow cabinet. The others are the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the former Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, brought back in January as Shadow Business Secretary.
Many other leading Tories were not even MPs when the last Conservative government fell in 1997. Mr Cameron, the Shadow Chancellor George Osborne, and the Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling all entered the Commons in 2001.
Labour MPs also quickly pointed out that swapping Mr Duncan for Sir George has added another old Etonian to the front line of the Conservative Party. Sir George is a hereditary baronet who owes his title to the role that one of his forebears played in the Battle of Trafalgar, 204 years ago.
"David Cameron’s love for Eton knows no limits," the Labour MP Denis MacShane claimed today. "He has removed good professional politicians like Alan Duncan and replaced them with southern constituency public school millionaires."
But Mr Cameron insisted that Mr Duncan himself had agreed that he would have to move to more junior job after his gaffe. "In George Young we have got someone of great talents, depth and experience," he added
Known as the ‘cycling baronet’, Sir George has always been on the liberal wing of the party. Margaret Thatcher kept him on the lowest rung of government for seven years, then sacked him in 1986.
In July, David Cameron indicated that he wanted more experienced hands into his front bench, including Sir George. Others he named were John Gummer, who was appointed party chairman by Margaret Thatcher 26 years ago, Peter Lilley, Social Security Secretary in 1992-97, Stephen Dorrell, Health Secretary in 1995-97, and James Arbuthnot, a former armed forces minister.
Mr Cameron made these comments at a time when he was being accused of using the row over MPs’ expenses to rid himself of some of the Tory old guard, while protecting others of his own generation.
Old stagers such as Douglas Hogg, who tried to claim the cost of cleaning out his moat, and Sir Peter Viggers, who claimed for a duck house, have had to agree to stand down at the next election.
But Michael Gove, who claimed for £7,000 worth of luxury fittings for his Kensington home soon after becoming an MP in 2005, and then transferred his allowance to a new house in Surrey, and claimed over £13,000 removal costs, remains a trusted member of the shadow Cabinet.