Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Britain's Secretary of State for Employment Esther McVey arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London, July 15, 2015. (SUZANNE PLUNKETT/REUTERS)
Britain's Secretary of State for Employment Esther McVey arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London, July 15, 2015. (SUZANNE PLUNKETT/REUTERS)

Cabinet shuffle in Britain culls the ‘male, pale and stale’ Add to ...

With less than 10 months until the next general election, Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, on Tuesday finished up a broad government shuffle, promoting several women and shaking up a ministerial team that has been criticized as unrepresentative of the country it governs.

Among the surprises were moves for William Hague, the foreign secretary, and Michael Gove, the minister of education, who both will stay in the government but with lower-profile positions. Mr. Hague, a former leader of the Conservative Party, will give up his seat in Parliament after the next elections in 2015.

More Related to this Story

With several women appointed to senior positions vacated by men, British newspapers have called the shuffle a cull of the “male, pale and stale.”

The opposition Labour Party has long attacked Mr. Cameron for leading a “cabinet of millionaires.” When a senior minister, Maria Miller, quit earlier this year she was replaced by Sajid Javid, the son of an immigrant bus driver.

The promotion of more women Tuesday seemed designed to follow the same path by making the Conservative Party’s component of Britain’s coalition government appear more representative of the nation.

Among the fresh female faces in the Cabinet were Nicky Morgan, a treasury official appointed education minister, and Liz Truss, a 38-year-old who entered Parliament in 2010 and who will become environment secretary.

One analyst said Cameron was changing the public face, if not the policies, of his party.

“In order to demonstrate a more friendly and modern Conservative face, Cameron has brought more women, regional accents and ethnic minorities into the Cabinet, giving the impression the Conservative frontbench is more in touch with ordinary voters, and not the elites that are the Conservative’s oft-assumed natural constituency,” wrote Mujtaba Rahman in an analysis for Eurasia Group, a consulting firm.

Mr. Cameron struck a harder note on ties with the European Union, an issue over which he faces criticism from the right and an electoral challenge of the UK Independence Party, which wants to leave the 28-nation bloc.

Mr. Hague is succeeded as foreign secretary by Philip Hammond, who moves from the post of defence secretary and who once said that he would vote to leave the European bloc if there were no significant change in Britain’s relationship with it. If re-elected next year, Mr. Cameron plans to renegotiate British ties with the union then call a referendum in 2017 on whether to stay.

Meanwhile Mr. Gove will become chief whip, a back-room post responsible for discipline among Conservative lawmakers in Parliament. Mr. Gove has been one of the most controversial Cabinet ministers, and his leadership of the education department has provoked fierce criticism from teaching unions among others.

In a posting on his company’s website, Charles Lewington, a former director of communications for the Conservative Party, described Mr. Gove’s move as “a triumph for the pollsters” who argued that his combative style at the education department was “deterring women voters.”

With Hammond in his new post, Britain has a foreign secretary “who is prepared to say we should quit the European Union if we don’t get the concessions we want,” Lewington said.

Among the high-profile casualties was Kenneth Clarke, a veteran Cabinet minister, whose positive views about the EU may have prevented him from ever leading the party.

For the post of Britain’s representative to the European Commission, the executive of the European Union, Cameron nominated Jonathan Hill, leader of the House of Lords and a low-key figure in the unelected parliamentary chamber.

That avoids the need for a politically risky parliamentary special election that would have been needed had Cameron nominated an elected lawmaker. However Hill, once an aide to Prime Minister John Major, may struggle to secure a powerful portfolio in Brussels if he is seen as not being a political heavyweight.

His nomination caught some by surprise given that, when asked once about the possibility of becoming European commissioner by the ConservativeHome website, he rejected the idea.

“Non, non, non” he replied in a brief burst of French.

Follow us on Twitter: @globeandmail

In the know

Most popular video »


More from The Globe and Mail

Most Popular Stories