Backbenches beckon for heavyweights

Stephen Crabb leaving Downing Street todayStephen Crabb leaving Downing Street today
Stephen Crabb leaving Downing Street today
A STRING of senior party figures including two Conservative leadership hopefuls will be sitting on the Government's backbenches after Theresa May's radical reshaping of the Government,

Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan, Oliver Letwin and John Whittingdale were all dismissed on Mrs May’s first morning in Downing Street.

Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland Secretary in David Cameron’s administration, stepped down after she turned down an alternative role in Government.

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Stephen Crabb, a contestent in the Conservative Party leadership campaign, arrived in Downing Street by the front entrance, normally a sign that a cabinet job is about to be offered.

But he later issued a statement confirming he was returning to the backbenches in the interests of his family.

Mr Crabb. a married father-of-two with strong Christian beliefs, was the subject of a recent newspaper story suggesting he had sent inappropriate messages to a younger woman.

The allegation was largely overshadowed by the row over comments made by Mrs Leadsom over Mrs May not having children.

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In a statement, Mr Crabb said: “Over the last two years I have had the huge privilege to serve in the Cabinet.

“After careful reflection I have informed the prime minister today that, in the best interest of my family. I cannot be part of her government at this time.

“I am grateful to my whole team for their hard work and encouragement. I look forward to supporting the government’s One Nation vision from the backbenches.”

His decision represents a remarkable twist in a career which had taken off from a junior role in the Wales Office to Welsh Secretary and then Work and Pensions Secretary in March, following the resignation of Iain Duncan Smith, before launching a leadership bid following Mr Cameron’s decision to stand down.

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His decision and Mrs May’s sackings leave significant numbers of the Conservatives’ most senior figures on its backbenches.

Mr Gove, before the EU referendum a key ally of David Cameron, had been expected to be fired by Mrs May with whom she repeatedly clashed.

In the most public episode two years ago, sources close to Mr Gove, then Education Secretary, criticised the Home Office under Mrs May for not doing enough to “drain the swamp” of extremism in a row which overshadowed the Queen’s Speech.

The former Justice Secretary had also challenged Mrs May for the Conservative leadership having withdrawn his support for Boris Johnson at the last minute.

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Mr Gove said: “It’s been an enormous privilege to serve for the last six years. Best of luck to the new government.”

Mrs Morgan had supported Mr Gove’s leadership bid and was also seen as an ally of George Osborne who was sacked within hours of Mrs May becoming prime minister.

She had enjoyed a swift rise, having entered parliament in 2010 and served in two jobs in the Treasury with Mr Osborne before becoming Education Secretary in 2013.

She said she was “disappointed” not to be continuing as Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, jobs she described as “two wonderful roles it’s been a privilege to hold”.

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John Whittingdale lost his job as Culture Secretary, a role he had held since last year’s General Election.

He had previously spent 10 years on the backbenches but had chaired the Commons Culture Select Committee.

Mr Whittingdale was an advocate of rebalancing arts funding so more went to areas outside London.

He wrote on Twitter: “Has been a privilege to serve as Culture Secretary. I wish my successor every success & will continue to support creative industries”.

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Mrs Villiers, who was Northern Ireland Secretary for almost four years, said: I regret to say that I have left the Government. The new Prime Minister was kind enough to offer me a role but it was not one which I felt I could take on.

She said she was “sad to bring to end my work in Northern Ireland but I believe that I leave the political situation there in a more stable position than it has been for many years”.