MICHAEL Gove’s move out of education and into the whip’s office has been the biggest surprise of the Government reshuffle today as Richmond MP William Hague’s decision to stand down continues to send ripples through Whitehall and his Yorkshire constituency.
In the biggest ministerial change of the coalition Government, Mr Hague said last night he was resigning from the Cabinet with immediate effect “in order to focus all my efforts on supporting the government in Parliament and gaining a Conservative victory in the General Election”.
He will replace Andrew Lansley as Leader of the Commons and lead the Conservative campaign in key constituencies, particularly in the North, in the run-up to next year’s election, when he will give up the Richmond seat he has held for 26 years.
David Cameron called Mr Hague one of his Party’s “leading lights”.
Mr Hague said: “In Government there is a balance to strike between experience on the one hand and the need for renewal on the other, and I informed the Prime Minister last summer that I would not be a candidate at the next General Election.
“Accordingly I am stepping aside as Foreign Secretary, in order to focus all my efforts on supporting the government in Parliament and gaining a Conservative victory in the General Election.”
He added: “I wish to thank my constituents in Richmond, Yorkshire, one of the greatest places on earth, for their emphatic support through thick and thin over such a long period.”
The Prime Minister said: “William Hague has been one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation, leading the party and serving in two cabinets. Not only has he been a first class Foreign Secretary, he has also been a close confidante, a wise counsellor and a great friend.”
Treasury Minister Nicky Morgan is put into education while Philip Hammond - who was among those said to be fearing for his future last week - is elevated to Foreign Secretary. Business Minister Michael Fallon is promoted to the defence brief.
Mr Gove’s move out of one of the Government’s big spending departments was presented as giving him freedom to be a “minister for TV” talking across a range of subjects.
But there will be a suspicion that his recent spat with Home Secretary Theresa May on tackling terrorism may have tested the patience of the Prime Minister one too many times.
Yorkshire’s rural community will want to see swift evidence that new Rural Affairs Secretary Liz Truss, who was raised in Leeds, understands countryside matters as she replaces Owen Paterson who was widely criticised for his handling of the floods.
Former defence secretary Liam Fox turned down the offer of a return to Government as a Foreign Office minister.
Dr Fox said: “I was honoured to be offered a post as Minister of State in the Foreign Office by the Prime Minister. I have turned it down.
“The issues that matter most to me and my constituents in North Somerset are the economy, immigration and Europe.
“I do not want to be distracted from what needs to be said on these matters at such an important time politically and look forward to discussing them from the backbenches in the lead up to the General Election.”
Veteran Tory Ken Clarke last night stepped down from his role as minister without portfolio and retired from Government, bringing to an end a front bench career stretching back to 1972.
David Jones was sacked as Welsh secretary and replaced by Stephen Crabb while Dominic Grieve, who has upset some on his own benches for not taking a tougher line on the European Convention on Human Rights, lost his job as Attorney General to be replaced by Jeremy Wright.
Leader of the House of Lords Lord Hill will be nominated to be an EU commissioner.
Universities Minister David Willetts stood down and will be replaced by Cities Minister Greg Clark, while Nick Hurd said he was leaving his post as Mnister for Civil Society. Greg Barker, who helped run Mr Cameron’s Tory leadership bid, quit as Energy and Climate Change Mminister.
International Development Minister Alan Duncan, Andrew Robathan from the Northern Ireland Office and Policing minister Damian Green also left the Government.
It was confirmed today that Sir Bob Kerslake, former Sheffield City Council chief executive, will step down as head of the Civil Service in the autumn and will retire as permanent secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government next February.
Sheffield Brightside MP David Blunkett said: “Sir Bob has been one of those outstanding public servants who have been able to transcend hands-on action, in the most effective way, at local government level and into the highest possible role in the civil service nationally.”
“His role both in leading in the Department of Communities and Local Government at the most difficult time, when local government have been hit hardest by the Government’s austerity measures, and in jointly leading the Civil Service, have been outstanding. Bob Kerslake will be sorely missed, bringing as he did outside experience, and the knowledge and capability that comes from having had to deliver in practice essential public services.”
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, a former leader of Bradford Council, confirmed he was staying in his role.