Hunt now in best of health as Cameron steers to the Right

JEREMY Hunt was the surprise winner of David Cameron’s first major Cabinet reshuffle as the Prime Minister moved to shore up support within his own ranks by promoting loyalists and moving his Government decisively to the Right.

Just a matter of months after Mr Hunt’s political career appeared finished following the damaging revelations about his close links to News International while serving as Culture Secretary, he was yesterday handed one of the biggest jobs in Government as he became the new Secretary of State for Health.

Outgoing Health Secretary Andrew Lansley – paying the price for alienating public and professionals alike with his NHS reforms – was one of several high-profile casualties as Mr Cameron wielded the knife for the first time.

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Most controversial among them was Justine Greening, who lost the Transport brief after just 11 months due to her opposition to expansion at Heathrow Airport. The move was described as “completely mad” by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, who is also strongly opposed to a third runway at Heathrow.

Kenneth Clarke was axed as Justice Secretary after ongoing criticism from Tory backbenchers that he had been too soft on criminals, while Yorkshire peer Baroness Warsi was ditched as party co-chairwoman.

While all three will at least retain seats at the Cabinet table, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman was pushed all the way to the backbenches after failing to recover from the fiasco of her attempted sell-off of much of Britain’s treasured woodlands.

In a move that will delight the Tory Right, hardliner Chris Grayling was promoted to the Justice brief from his role as Employment Minister and is expected to take a far tougher line on prisoner sentencing and the European Court of Human Rights.

Equally popular on the Right – but infuriating green activists – was the decision to bring Owen Paterson in as Environment Secretary. Mr Paterson is a fierce opponent of the hunting ban and has described wind turbines as “a massive waste of’ money”.

But it was the promotion of Mr Hunt that created the biggest waves across Westminster, with the man many were expecting to be axed from the Cabinet following his battering at the Leveson Inquiry instead taking control of the NHS after overseeing a hugely successful Olympic Games.

“It is a huge task, and the biggest privilege of my life,” a beaming Mr Hunt said.

Number 10 insisted the Ministerial shake-up did not signal any change of Government policy, and that Mr Cameron simply wanted a refreshed team to drive through the change which has been introduced in the first half of the coalition’s five-year term.

“This is a reshuffle that seeks to look to the future and ensure we have the right Ministers in place to deliver the Government’s programme,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“The first couple of years of this Government have involved lots of legislation and getting new policies through. We are now in the delivery phase and people have been brought in with that in mind.”

Nonetheless, the demotion of Rotherham-born Ms Greening to the Department for International Development was widely interpreted as laying the ground for a possible U-turn on Heathrow.

And countryside campaigners will be optimistic the promotion of Mr Paterson from Northern Ireland Secretary to the environment brief means a revocation of the hunting ban could yet be back on the table.