Charles Kennedy reshuffled his frontbench team yesterday in the most extensive change since he succeeded Paddy Ashdown as leader of the Liberal Democrats.
Matthew Taylor, the Treasury spokesman, will be replaced by the seasoned political player Vincent Cable, a former chief economist at Shell and special adviser to the late Labour leader John Smith. Mr Cable was the party's spokesman for trade and industry.
Mr Taylor has been moved to the chairmanship of the parliamentary party, which is interpreted as a demotion, and will have responsibility for overseeing the manifesto. He is likely to take on an enhanced media role and yesterday made clear that he intended to use his position to "speak out". The extensive reshuffle, which followed months of lobbying from senior Liberal Democrats who feared their team needed a shake-up to take on Labour, will be interpreted at Westminster as a sign that the party leader is willing to assert himself.
It also reflects a move away from Mr Kennedy's own social democratic roots towards a more liberal policy programme.
Simon Hughes, the home affairs spokesman, was moved out of his role and replaced by Mark Oaten, one of the rising stars of the party.
Mr Hughes will now concentrate on campaigning to become Mayor of London and will be the party's official spokes-man on the capital.
Mr Kennedy moved Paul Burstow, formally spokesman on older people, into the crucial health role, which was vacated by Evan Harris, who plans to take a "sabbatical" from politics because of the terminal ill-health of his girlfriend. Sandra Gidley becomes spokesman for older people in addition to her role as shadow minister for women.
Malcolm Bruce returns from the back benches as the party's trade and industry spokesman, in a further move to bring in more experienced players to the team.
The fresh promotions in the Liberal Democrats' frontbench team are Viscount Thurso, the Eton-educated former managing director of Champney's health club, who will add transport to his role as Scotland spokesman, and Tom Brake, who joins the frontbench team as international development spokesman.
Don Foster is to take on culture, media and sport after Nick Harvey quit the front bench. Jenny Tonge, former international development spokeswoman, has also resigned because she is leaving the House of Commons at the next election. Sir Archy Kirkwood has also resigned from the front bench.
Mr Kennedy said the Liberal Democrats were "ready to compete even more effectively with the other two parties and argue with sincerity and persuasion for our vision of an improved Britain".
He said: "The party conference season, which followed the remarkable Brent East by-election campaign, has confirmed a Labour government riven with rivalries and a Conservative Party consumed with bitterness. The contrast with the Liberal Democrats could hardly be more pronounced.
"The new team provides the appropriate blend of experience and youth which is the hallmark of our party."