Putting together a ‘war cabinet’ before the 2015 general elections, UK prime minister David Cameron on Tuesday dropped high-profile figures such as William Hague and Ken Clarke, and promoted first-time Indian-origin MP Priti Patel as the Exchequer secretary.
In a dramatic reshuffle that took many by surprise, Cameron brought in more women into the cabinet, and moved another high-profile leader, Education secretary Michael Gove, as the chief whip, with “an enhanced role in campaigning and doing broadcast media interviews”.
Patel, 42, is the Prime Minister’s ‘Indian Diaspora Champion’, and an avid supporter of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
She had organised ‘Gujarat Day’ in the House of Commons on 1 May, flayed the BBC for allegedly biased reporting about Modi on 16 May (when indian election results were out), and is in the forefront of driving UK-India trade relations.
As the Exchequer secretary, Patel will work with Chancellor George Osborne, who extended her a “very warm welcome” in the Treasury, and called her induction as a “strong addition to our excellent team”.
Inducting Patel and other women into the Cameron government is seen as a move to introduce fresh faces before the electons, overcome the image that the cabinet is full of ‘male, pale and stale’ people, and seek support from the influential British Indian community which has traditionally supported Labour.
Hague, who visited India earlier this month, has announced that he will not contest the next elections, and will focus on writing and his family. Clarke, a Tory veteran who served in the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, is retiring from politics.
Hague has been replaced by Eurosceptic Philip Hammond as Foreign secretary, while Liz Truss becomes the Environment secretary and Nicky Morgan the Education secretary.
Another woman promoted is Esther McVey, who will attend the cabinet in her existing role as minister of state.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox turned down a junior minister’s job in the Foreign Office in charge of India and China. The number of women in cabinet has been doubled from three to six in the ongoing reshuffle, out of a total of 23 ministers in Cameron’s top team.
The next general elections are due in May 2015, when the two partners in the ruling coalition — Conservative and Liberal Democrats — will contest separately.
Labour will seek to regain power, while all three parties will face mounting challenge from the UK Independence Party.