U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron appointed three more women to his cabinet after a night of firings and resignations of older men in his biggest government overhaul, 10 months before the general election.
Nicky Morgan, 41, was named education secretary today and Liz Truss, 38, was picked as environment secretary, both replacing older male ministers. Tina Stowell, 47, was appointed leader of the House of Lords. Still, the biggest promotion of the morning went to Philip Hammond, 58, who was announced as the new foreign secretary.
Hammond, who last year said that as things stand, he’d vote for Britain to quit the European Union, replaced William Hague, who last night announced he’ll leave politics at the time of the May 2015 election. Hammond was previously defence secretary.
Morgan and Truss were the second and third lawmakers elected in 2010 to make it to the cabinet. With Stowell, they became the fourth, fifth and sixth women in the 22-person cabinet, as Cameron sought to expand the Conservatives’ appeal to voters with fresh faces at the top of his government.
“What’s striking is quite how sweeping it is, given that we’re 10 months from the election,” Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen Mary University, London, said in an interview. “Normally you would see this kind of clear-out halfway through the cycle. It’s testament to how close the election is shaping up to be.”
An ICM poll for today’s Guardian newspaper showed the Tories leading the opposition Labour Party by 34 percent to 33 percent, while a YouGov Plc poll for The Sun put Labour three points ahead.
Michael Gove, 46, who as education secretary for the past four years has clashed with teaching unions and with cabinet colleagues including Home Secretary Theresa May, has been demoted to chief whip, responsible for Conservative Party discipline, a post that is technically outside the cabinet and pays less.
Cameron’s spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, told reporters it was “absolutely not” a demotion and said Gove will be at the heart of communicating the Conservative message in the run-up to the election.
Cameron nominated Jonathan Hill, 53, who had been leader of the House of Lords since 2013, as Britain’s next representative on the European Commission.
While that avoids the by-election that would have been required had he appointed someone from the House of Commons, selecting a relatively unknown politician may hurt the U.K.’s chances of getting a senior post.
Asked last month whether he wanted the job, Hill was cited as telling the ConservativeHome website: “Non, non, non”, adding “I quite like it at home, in the British Isles.”
Michael Fallon, 62, was appointed defence secretary. It marks Cameron’s recognition of a man who four years ago was defeated in his attempt to become head of Parliament’s Treasury Committee. He has since taken on a series of troubleshooting roles for the prime minister as a minister in the energy and business departments and was always willing to give interviews defending the government’s policies
The biggest news of the previous evening was the departure from politics of Hague, 53, and Ken Clarke, 74, two men who have spent a quarter of a century at the top of British politics. Owen Paterson, 58, was removed as environment secretary. Andrew Lansley, 57, was fired as leader of the House of Commons. Also leaving office were Attorney General Dominic Grieve, Science Minister David Willetts and Welsh Secretary David Jones.
U.K. media focused today on Hammond’s 2013 statement that he would have voted in a referendum to leave the European Union at that time, suggesting that would make him a more euro-skeptic foreign secretary than Hague. Clarke dismissed that argument.
“Any government of this country is going to want to stay in the European Union,” Clarke, who was the most pro-EU member of Cameron’s cabinet, told BBC Radio 4 this morning. “We’re going to get done serious reforms if we concentrate on the economic reforms we need.”