London - British
Prime Minister David Cameron kept his unpopular finance minister George Osborne
in a reshuffle of his cabinet on Tuesday that he hopes will revive the
Conservative-led government’s fortunes in the middle of a term dominated by
Cameron’s office has billed the rejig as a game changer but
heavyweights such as Foreign Secretary William Hague are seen staying put and
few changes are expected in policy.
The prime minister’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 powerful enemies in his Conservatives at a
delicate time for the party.
Osborne, a close Cameron ally, was booed by crowds before he
presented medals to Paralympics winners on Monday night, highlighting
discontent with budget cuts that have repeatedly missed the government’s
targets and the general economic gloom.
“He’s definitely staying put,” a source familiar with the
reshuffle discussions told Reuters.
Polls show many Britons think Osborne should be sacked but
replacing too many senior ministers could be interpreted as an admission of
policy failure, particularly on the economy.
Cameron is expected instead to beef up his economic team by
giving Justice Secretary Ken Clarke - a former finance minister - a new role
with an economics brief. Lib Dem David Laws, another respected economic brain,
was also likely to be given a ministerial role.
The reshuffle is expected to be more of an exercise in
improving Cameron’s relationship with his party, with positions for high flyers
from the Conservative populist right and even its “eurosceptic” wing which
demands a tougher line on Brussels.
Government officials argue that shifting Osborne from his
post would raise questions on financial markets about Cameron’s resolve in
tackling Britain’s large budget deficit.
Cameron, who has seen his party’s popularity fall as the
economy sours, has stuck to his guns with austerity, hoping that growth will
return before the next parliamentary election in 2015.
Osborne’s March budget cut taxes for the richest while
raising levies on the elderly, leading to criticism the coalition was out of
touch with those at the bottom of the ladder struggling in the downturn.
In one of two early confirmed changes, Cameron moved
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell to take charge of internal
party discipline in parliament.
Mitchell, a former UN peace keeper, will become “Chief
Whip,” tasked with keeping in line restive Conservative backbench politicians
who have already forced a U-turn over constitutional reform and want to rewrite
Britain’s relationship with the European Union.
Theresa Villiers was appointed as Northern Ireland minister.
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