Thursday 14 November 2019

Reprieve for unpopular Osborne in Tory reshuffle

Justine Greening arrives at 10 Downing Street for the reshuffle.
Justine Greening arrives at 10 Downing Street for the reshuffle.
MP Jeremy Hunt.

Matt Falloon and Tim Castle in London

British Prime Minister David Cameron kept unpopular finance minister George Osborne in place yesterday in a reshuffle he hopes will revive his government's flagging fortunes.

Dogged by recession and austerity, Mr Cameron was desperate to give a new look to his team and introduce a sense of dynamism.

His office billed his first cabinet rejig as a game changer for a government finding it increasingly difficult to heal the economy, but heavyweights such as Foreign Secretary William Hague stayed put and few changes are actually expected in policy.

Mr Cameron's scope for a sweeping overhaul is limited by the constraints of life in coalition with the left-leaning Liberal Democrats and the danger of creating enemies among his own Conservatives.

"In some respects the right of the party has been strengthened, but it's difficult to see it fundamentally changing the course of the government or its reputation," said Wyn Grant, a professor of politics at the University of Warwick.

Booed

"What it might do is help unify the Conservatives in parliament. The crucial area is economic policy and the continued recession -- if that turns around that will benefit the government's popularity more than a reshuffle," he said.

Mr Osborne, a close Cameron ally, was booed by crowds before he presented medals to winners at the Paralympics on Monday night -- highlighting discontent with budget cuts that have repeatedly missed the government's targets, and the general economic gloom.

Polls show many Britons think Mr Osborne should be sacked. But replacing too many senior ministers could be interpreted as an admission of policy failure, particularly on the economy. Shifting Mr Osborne from his post would also raise questions on financial markets about Mr Cameron's resolve in tackling Britain's large budget deficit.

Mr Cameron, who has seen his party's popularity fall as the economy sours, has stuck to his guns with austerity measures, hoping growth will return before the next election in 2015.

The dire state of the economy has forced him to make some changes to his economic team, however.

Justice Secretary Ken Clarke (72), a former finance minister, was moved to a floating role with an economics brief.

Lib Dem David Laws, another respected economic brain, was brought into a ministerial job, with a junior portfolio at the education ministry alongside a roving economics remit. That was the only significant change for the Lib Dems, with business minister Vince Cable and Mr Osborne's number two Danny Alexander among those keeping their senior cabinet positions.

The reshuffle is being seen more as an exercise in improving Mr Cameron's relationship with his own party, which is starting to fear for its chances of re-election. Figures from the Conservative right were promoted and concessions made to a rebellious "eurosceptic" wing that demands a tougher line on relations with Brussels.

Mr Clarke's move, in effect a demotion for one of the most outspoken pro-Europe Conservatives, was cheered by the eurosceptics.

However, financial markets, watching for any sign of a rethink of Britain's austerity plan, brushed aside the reshuffle.

Irish Independent

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