the British prime minister shows little deference to the Liberal Democrats, but instead pays attention to demands of his parliamentary party

This was a reshuffle by the Conservative party for the Conservative party, designed to make the party more at ease with itself, and allow it to be seen as a distinctive right of centre ideological force at the next election.

It is not a reshuffle for the coalition, or more cohesive government. In his choices Mr Cameron has shown little deference to the Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, and instead paid attention to the demands of his parliamentary party.

All five Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers may have been retained in their current posts, but when the quintet look round the table at the first meeting of the cabinet this afternoon, they will see a constellation of forces ranged against them has strengthened significantly.

Indeed some Liberal Democrat MPs privately questioned whether Mr Clegg had bargained as hard as he could in this reshuffle, and whether he allowed too much to pass so long as his chief political prize - the return of Mr David Laws to government - was secured.

The famous five now confront Mr Owen Paterson at the department of environment, opposed to renewable subsidies and supportive of shale gas. He will face battles ahead with the energy secretary Mr Ed Davey, as well as with Mr Clegg on EU issues such as fisheries.

At the Ministry of Justice, instead of the liberal Kenneth Clarke they face Mr Chris Grayling - "a man who does not have a liberal bone in his body" according to one Lib Dem MP .

At the Department for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, the former chief whip, may be an agnostic on aviation - he has a fear of flying - but he will do Downing Street's broad bidding. In the words of the London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, Justine Greening can only have been shifted from transport after just 10 months to make way for a new policy on a third runway at Heathrow built round a new all-party commission on the future of aviation.

Equalities, a brief previously held in the home office by the Home Secretary Theresa May and the Lib Dem Lynn Featherstone, has been sent to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, one of the few departments in which no Lib Dem minister serves.

At the same time it emerged that Mr Vince Cable, the business secretary, was not consulted over the appointment of Mr Matthew Hancock and Mr Michael Fallon in his department. Conservative sources were openly briefing that the two men had, in part, been appointed to keep a hawkish eye on Mr Cable as the battle hots up over deregulation as the primary route to growth.

The extent to which Mr Vince's wagons are in reality being circled by hostile Tories can be exaggerated. Mr Hancock is an intellectual who can have a serious debate with mr Cable, and Mr David Willetts the moderate higher education minister remains in place. He has a serious relationship with Mr Cable. But the net effect will be that Mr Cable, and his Lib Dem colleague Jo Swinson, will have to argue their corner that much harder at business to get an agreed policy.

It is also strange that Nick Harvey - the respected Lib Dem armed forces minister - has been sacked by Mr Clegg, meaning they have vacated the defence department entirely. Mr Harvey's dismissal came out of the blue and has hit him hard since he was intimately involved in drawing up a policy on the replacement for trident nuclear submarine programme due to be published next year.

Mr Harvey had good relations with the defence secretary Philip Hammond, but was told by Mr Clegg that he wanted to focus his finite ministerial resources on those departments from which they could get most media traction.

The stronger counter argument is that with Mr Davey as energy secretary, the Lib Dems' green agenda was well covered. Mr Harvey expressed some of his unease, saying: " I hope very much that the absence of a Lib Dem voice in the Ministry of Defence does not make it more difficult to ensure that the review comes up with the options we would like".

Mr Clegg has told Mr Harvey that he will personally oversee the review through the cabinet office where Mr David Laws will also be present.

Even the appointment of Mr Jeremy Hunt to the Department of Health is not an unalloyed plus for the Lib Dems. In a sign that Mr Cameron disagrees with Mr Clegg, the prime minister has promoted Mr Hunt to the most politically sensitive public service post in the cabinet.

At least Mr Andrew Lansley's departure allows Mr Norman Lamb to return to health, a brief he held with distinction for the Lib Dems in opposition. Mr Lansley barred him from health over a bitter pre-election row on the future of social care. Mr Lamb's arrival will also allow the Lib Dems to distance themselves from the Lansley reforms, and focus on social care, another hot election issue. The Lib Dem health minister Paul Burstow, a supporter of the Lansley reforms, has been quietly ditched.

Senior Lib Dem officials did not deny the reshuffle will be seen as a shift to the right, but took solace in arguing the coalition agreement and the decision making processes, remain intact.

It is also hard to underestimate how important the Lib Dems regard the appointment of Mr Laws, one of the most effective figures to grace Lib Dem benches. It will be fascinating to see whether Mr Laws can co-operate with the education secretary Michael Gove and yet manage to gain some political kudos for his party for the reforming work on social mobility that up until now Mr Gove has been able to claim solely for himself.

But that will be the perennial coalition tension as the general election approaches - the conflict between effective government and party interest. Guardian News Service


Cameron shakes up govt September 4, 2012

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