Women lead Tory charge
Cameron puts party on election footing with reshuffle
David Cameron has put the Tories on a war footing for the general election with his most radical reshuffle since coming to power.
In a shake-up that took observers by surprise with its scope, the Prime Minister shifted key ally Michael Gove from Education Secretary to chief whip – ordering him to act as "minister for TV".
Meanwhile, a series of established figures were culled in favour of women, with the highest profile casualty Owen Paterson – a former Northern Ireland Secretary – losing his environment brief to Liz Truss.
His successor in Belfast, Theresa Villiers, has kept her job.
The Northern Ireland Office was barely affected by the reshuffle, with only the little-known Andrew Robathan quitting as a Minister of State here.
Mr Cameron and Mr Gove both dismissed speculation that he had been demoted, despite unions expressing glee after he lost his status as a full Cabinet member and took a £30,000 pay cut. The premier described the MP as "one of my big hitters, one of my real stars, one of my great brains", arguing that he would be on the front line in the run-up to next May.
Mr Gove insisted he had been given the choice of staying at education but took the decision to move for an "exciting" role.
He is now expected to join a "core" election team around the PM, with William Hague, who has given up the frenetic job of Foreign Secretary, to become Leader of the House of Commons.
Mr Cameron said: "This is a fresh team with the ideas, the energy, the policy and the ability to take this country forward, to complete the long-term economic plan and secure our future. I think it is a team that reflects modern Britain and it is by reflecting all of modern Britain that we will get the best for our country."
The PM promoted Philip Hammond from defence to become Foreign Secretary, in an appointment Eurosceptic Tories hope will help ward off the electoral threat from Ukip.
Mr Hammond said last year he would vote to leave the EU if it was not reformed – although the minister insisted he was "positive" about a successful renegotiation of relations ahead of a mooted in/out referendum in 2017. Treasury Minister Nicky Morgan (41), who replaces Mr Gove, and new Environment Secretary Ms Truss (38) are the first mothers in the Cabinet since the resignation of Maria Miller in April.
Mr Cameron added another female face around the Cabinet table as former TV presenter Esther McVey, who keeps her job as Minister for Employment and disabilities, will attend the weekly meetings at 10 Downing Street without being a full member.
Energy Mminister Michael Fallon, seen as a "safe pair of hands", was promoted to join the Cabinet as Defence Secretary, replacing Mr Hammond.
Mr Cameron named former public relations executive Lord Hill of Oareford as his nominee for European Commissioner, giving his job as Leader of the Lords to Lady Stowell of Beeston – the peer who guided gay marriage legislation through the Upper House.
Stephen Crabb replaced David Jones as Welsh Secretary, while in another change that pleased Eurosceptics, Dominic Grieve lost his post as Attorney General with Jeremy Wright taking the role as the Government's top law officer.